Budget Self-Immolation

It looks like I’ve made it to the town council meeting just in time to miss the budget discussion, and I’m still shaking a bit from the school committee meeting. (Although, to be honest, I’m not sure what emotion is the cause.)
School Committee member Leonard Wright made one of the union’s talking points by asking Superintendent Rearick’s money man, Director of Administration and Finance Douglas Fiore, to calculate the amount of change in a step-10 teacher’s income following one of the budget proposals, including healthcare payments. The upshot was that the average step-10 teacher would be out a little over $1,000 on the year. Wright said, essentially, that such a change would be unfair.
Here’s where I almost did take (and probably should have taken) the microphone after the teachers’ cheers subsided to testify as a taxpayer that I face dire financial circumstances this year. Moreover, my healthcare is pretty pitiful. A single-digit-aged child’s fractured wrist cost me the better part of a week’s take-home pay.
And given a probable increase in my property taxes, this year, it is possible that I will not be able to finish the year as a Tiverton resident. Forgive me if my heart doesn’t bleed for an employee making plus-or-minus on $70,000 for a shortened work year.
Thankfully, committee member Michael Burk had the presence of mind to ask for the same information for a teacher going from step 9 to step 10. If I heard right, the total increase (accounting for healthcare) would be 15%. If Mr. Wright wants a contract that is fair to teachers and fair to residents, let him look at that dynamic.
It should hurt the pride of Tiverton’s liberal citizens to know that some of their representatives seem willing to take from the poor to give to the relatively wealthy — at least when the former aren’t union and the latter are.
ADDENDUM:
It seems to me that there is a straightforward way to address the “inequity” of which Mr. Wright complained. The three options that the administrators offered to the school committee were as follows:

  1. Reduce the projected 2% salary increase for teachers to zero but reduce the co-pay on insurance from 18% to 15%.
  2. Reduce the projected 2% salary increase for teachers to (1) one percent but increase the co-pay from 15% to 20%.
  3. Maintain the proposed 2% salary increase and raise the co-pay from 20% to 25%.

If the numbers work out roughly the same for the district, then the difference is mainly how it is distributed among teachers. If the complaint is that teachers who no longer benefit from the guaranteed raises of the step system can actually go backwards on take-home pay because of health insurance, then the solution would be to go with option #3, because a 2% raise means more to somebody making $70,000 than somebody making less.
Of course, I’d say that the most fair system would adjust the step system (ideally by eliminating it) and increase percentages across the board. The next stage would be to eliminate group raises and judge the employees on their individual merits.

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Monique
Editor
13 years ago

“some of their representatives seem willing to take from the poor to give to the relatively wealthy — at least when the former aren’t union and the latter are.”
The only change I would make is, “public union”.
The rest is exactly correct. And Tiverton is a thingummy for the rest of the state. Many years ago, public employees, state and local, became the elite class in Rhode Island supported by taxpayer plebs. (Example: benefits are an additional 33% of salary in the private sector but a whopping 88% additional percent of salary in the public sector. So we work extra to pay for benefits we don’t have ourselves.)
Side note: ironically, these elites are represented by Democrats. You know, the party who supposedly stands for the little people and the working joe.
Much as we would like to, we cannot pay any more for state and municipal employees. In fact, it needs to start going the other way as we cannot afford the present level of compensation (seventh highest taxed).
Unfair is correct. But not the way Mr. Wright meant.

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