Spin in Ink

The National Education Association couldn’t have asked for better coverage of the Tiverton School Committee meeting on Tuesday from the Providence Journal’s Gina Macris if the union had paid for it:

Amid the continuing rancor over an unsettled teachers’ contract, School Committee member Leonard Wright injected a conciliatory tone.
The town has high-performing schools and high-performing teachers, he said,
“I don’t think we should put them in the position of putting them behind” financially, Wright said.
“We should find another way to balance the budget,” he said.
In the end, the rest of the committee took his advice — to the extent that it put off making any decisions that would ask teachers to take a cut in pay during the next school year.
After the meeting, Amy Mullen, president of the teachers’ union, said she applauded Wright for quickly realizing that teachers would end up with a pay cut and “stating that it wasn’t fair.” …
Schools Supt. William J. Rearick presented the committee with three scenarios for next year’s budget that pit salaries against rising out-of-pocket premiums for health care, with teachers ending up in the red. …
Wright said one of Rearick’s options would give teachers an added $1,300 in salary — a raise of about 2 percent for those with the most experience — but make them pay $3,500 toward the cost of a family health insurance plan.
That figure, more than triple the $1,100 teachers now pay for family health care, represents about 25 percent of the total cost of a family premium.

The tell-tale phrase is “those with the most experience” — as opposed to, for example, “those who have been with the district longest.” “Experience” makes it sound almost like a gauge of merit. More significant, though, is that the phrase allows Macris to avoid entirely her responsibility to explain the step system to her readers. Note that she actually flips the calculation so that the raise is $1,300, or “about 2 percent,” when in fact it is the two percent that is given.
The math that Macris lays out is for teachers at step 10, which is the top step, relying entirely on the percent salary adjustments with each contract for raises. Teachers at every other step would receive the two percent on top of whatever percentage increase the step calls for. So, for Rearick’s “Option 3,” which is the one on which Wright and Macris focused, and his “Option 1,” for which there is no salary increase, but only a 15% co-pay, the numbers would fall out as follows for teachers who take the family plan health insurance (with the “net change” as the dollar amount for teachers entering that step, including healthcare copay adjustment):

Option 3 Option 1
Step 2006–2007
Net Change Net Change
1 35,484 36,194 NA NA
2 38,077 38,839 -145 493
3 40,672 41,485.44 -92 495
4 43,415 44,283 111 643
5 46,255 47,180 265 740
6 49,177 50,161 406 822
7 51,974 53,013 336 697
8 54,860 55,957 483 786
9 58,041 59,202 842 1,081
10 64,205 65,489 3,948 4,064
Above 64,205 65,489 -2,216 -2,100

In summary, it is not at all accurate for Macris to offer her numbers as if they apply to teachers as a whole. Indeed, under no scenario do any teachers who do not take the health insurance suffer a “pay cut,” and the fact that Option 1 is better for teachers across the board, if they take health insurance, indicates that a not-insignificant number must not take it. (Otherwise, the options wouldn’t be interchangeable from the administration’s point of view.)
To be honest, it strikes me as indicative of the intellectual habits of those who are used to the bottomless pit of public revenue to calculate healthcare as part of the salary in this way, because it assumes that teachers oughtn’t bear some burden of increasing costs, leaving it all to the taxpayers to eat the increase. That aside, it’s quite a negotiating scam to position the “most experienced” teachers such that, for them to get raises, everybody else must, as well.

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Tom W
Tom W
15 years ago

Gina Macris has a track record of being, shall we say, sympathetic to the teachers unions.
For a number of years take yearly totals of the town’s net expenditures for teacher payroll, pension system contributions, health care and other benefits – and then divide by the number of full time teachers.
That’ll provide a close estimate of what the average teacher really makes, and of their raises from year to year.

Tom W
Tom W
15 years ago

I should add that the town pension contribution is an overlooked, but increasingly costly, element of teacher compensation.
The unions and sycophant school committees have become real artistes when it comes to hiding the true extent of compensation via steps; professional development days; lowered class sizes; sick time (and the accrual thereof); pensions; etc.

Donald B. Hawthorne
Donald B. Hawthorne
15 years ago

I don’t have all the Tiverton particulars but I am extremely familiar with how the NEA tried the pay cut argument in East Greenwich several months ago and we showed it was false. See here and here.
The key point to remember is this: Whatever step a teacher is at in one year, they go up to the next step in the subsequent year. So a step 1 teacher becomes a step 2 teacher the next year. I wrote about this in the ProJo in 2004. The NEA conveniently forgets to talk about the step change.
In addition, after years of getting mostly 8-12% annual salary increases and paying almost nothing for health insurance co-pays, going to a higher co-pay percentage in one year may result in a one-time reduction in pay for some school districts – but even that is only a one-time event. So be it. In a era of large budget deficits across the state, welcome to the real world where the taxpayers who pay their salaries have been paying higher co-pays for years.

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