Giving the Axe [sic] to the Finger
Seemingly to change the topic after the NEA’s many missteps in Tiverton (including the widely distributed image of his own middle finger to the townspeople), NEA Assistant Executive Director Patrick Crowley adds insult to injury by attempting to sell Sakonnet Times readers a portrait of deception. His letter in yesterday’s edition ends with a statement that “people with a political axe to grind” should not “get away with distortions of the facts,” and I agree so wholeheartedly that I cannot do otherwise than note his own.
He starts with a comparison of the 19.9% national inflation from 2000 to 2006 with the concurrent 19.8% increase in RI “instructional expenditures,” which includes instructional teachers, substitutes, instructional paraprofessionals, pupil use technology, and instructional materials and trips. Here, high school English teachers have an opportunity to quiz their students concerning the reason that Mr. Crowley would include technology, materials, and trips in data for his argument that teacher salaries and benefits are not “driv[ing] the acceleration of education costs in Rhode Island.”
Any student who answers that the union executive is hiding something gets a star: The increase in the teachers subcategory by itself was 28.1% (both in total and per pupil). The combined expenditures for technology, materials, and trips actually fell 3.3%, while teachers’ percentage of the instructional category climbed from 84.5% to 90.4%.
Crowley proceeds to jump from statistical category to statistical category in order to paint an impressionistic picture of exploding costs beyond the union’s scope and only modest increases within. Sticking with ridoe.org’s IN$ITE data, however, the paint evaporates right off his canvas. As a percentage of total expenditures, leadership and operations have both dropped over the time period in question. Meanwhile, the increases in the share of the pie claimed by “other commitments” and instructional support includes (among other things) a 25.5% increase for guidance and counseling (with professionals very visible in recent union activities), a 113.2% increase for retiree benefits, a 144.1% increase for teacher support (mentoring programs, trainers, aids, graders, etc.), a 155.5% increase for therapists, psychologists, et al (e.g., for special education), and a 171% increase for teacher sabbaticals.
It is important to remember, when reviewing these percentages, that no other subcategory comes anywhere near the expenditures on teachers. The second largest expenditure in education is building upkeep, utilities, et al, at 7.7% of the total. Instructional teachers, by contrast, account for 47.1% of the total.
One must give credit to Crowley for providing (most of) his sources. It takes some guts to give others the tools to prove that you’re attempting to deceive them. Of course, it also takes an arrogant belief that residents of the East Bay area are too lazy or stupid to do so.
It would seem that Mr. Crowley hasn’t changed the topic at all.