Friday, August 20, 2004

Warwick School debate

This year sees me as and official parent of a child in the Warwick School system. As such, I have taken a keener interest in the Warwick Teacher's contract issue. The Teachers' Union and the Warwick school board have been debating for at least a year, and the teachers have been without a contract for a year or so. Recently, a subpoena was issued to force the Union and the Warwick School Board to talk. The Teachers' Union claims that the School Board didn't even consider their more recent proposal, and a look at the evolution of the "negotiations" reveals why. In short, the Teachers' Union raised their demands in the last go round, rather than lessened them. As far as I know, this isn't generally the way negotiations go, is it? (The school board seems to be familiar with Contract Negotiation 101 and raised their offer). Additionally, the Warwick Teachers Union, and Rhode Island Teachers in general, continue to refuse to acknowledge the new reality: teachers are going to have to start paying for part of their own health insurance.

A review of the previous contract shows that the annual salary increases is effectively just under 7.5% through the course of the three year contract. What is not usually graphically represented is that these increases are based on years in service. In other words, a new teacher at step 1 (one year or less experience) earned $30,348 in 2000-01. A new teacher at the same level in 2001-02 receive an increase in salary of 3.7% over, even though they hadn't worked a day. In other words, the position received a raise, not the people in them! And what about that new teacher, the one who earned $30,348 in 2000-01? Well, with another year of experience, they are now "Step 2", so they moved up a step, and since it was now 2001-02, they went from earning $30,348 to earning $34,722. This translates to an actual salary increase of 14.4% for one year of experience and moving up from step 1 to step 2. This is never talked about, much less accurately represented. Below IS and accurate representation (thanks to Don Hawthorne for illuminating me on this hidden raise and for this tabular presentation).

Increases received as teachers move up 1 step/year until at step 10 (these are the massive, hidden increases: HI= Hidden Increase Percentage)
Step .... 2000-01...... 2001-02 .... (HI)...... 2002-03 .... (HI)

1 .......$30,348....... $31,486................ $32,588
2 .......$33,467....... $34,722 ... 14.4% ... $35,937 ... 14.1%
3 .......$36,032....... $37,383 ... 11.7% ... $38,691 ... 11.4%
4 .......$38,597....... $40,044 ... 11.1% ... $41,446 ... 10.9%
5 .......$41,162....... $42,706 ... 10.6% ... $44,201 ... 10.4%
6 .......$43,726....... $45,366 ... 10.2% ... $46,954 ... 9.9%
7 .......$46,528....... $48,273 ... 10.4% ... $49,963 ... 10.1%
8 .......$48,862....... $50,694 ... 9.0% ... $52,468 ... 8.7%
9 .......$50,958....... $52,869 ... 8.2% ... $54,719 ... 7.9%
10.......$55,973....... $58,072 ... 14.0% ... $60,105 ... 13.7%

Additionally, what is never included in the salary increase percentages are the "Longevity Increments" earned (also in Appendix A of the past contract):


For 20 years of service, of which 15 have been in Warwick

2000 - 2001 - $ 916
2001 - 2002 - $1266
2002 - 2003 - $1616

For 25 years of service, of which 20 have been in Warwick

2000 - 2001 - $1136
2001 - 2002 - $1486
2002 - 2003 - $1836

For 30 years of service, of which 25 have been in Warwick

2000 - 2001 - $1356
2001 - 2002 - $1706
2002 - 2003 - $2056

There are also "Advanced Increments" that every teacher can earn, though I don't have as much of a problem with these essentially merit-based salary increases. The others are a problem to me because they are NOT based on performance.

This is all just particular to the Warwick Teachers' Union, as a whole, Rhode Island is well above the national average in Teacher and Public employee compensation. According to a document entitled “Survey and Analysis of Teacher Salary Trends 2002” located at the American Federation of Teachers own web site [Go to Table I-1 on page 7 9page 15 of the linked PDF document], the average RI teachers’ salary was $51,619 in 2001-2002, 4th highest among the 50 states and 16% above the national average. The report also shows that the average teacher salary of $51,619 versus the average salary of $32,186 earned during 2001 in the RI private sector. [See Table I-5 on page 11 (page 19 of the PDF document) of the report].

As a sidenote, the $32,186 figure was taken from this Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of annual pay, which reveals that the national average is $36,214, putting Rhode Island close to $4,000 below the national average. It gets worse. A comparison of the Rhode Island average to Connecticut ($47,732) and Massachusetts ($45,562), first and third highest in the U.S., respectively, reveals how relatively poorly paid the private sector in Rhode Island is compared to its Southern New England neighbors. This is important because we pay our teachers some of the best salaries in the nation, but those who pay those salaries, private sector, tax-paying citizens, earn less than the national average and the teachers they are subsidizing! (Also, notice how Washington, D.C. has the highest private sector salaries of all...heh.)

What does this mean? Well, the Warwick teachers make more money, pay less for health care, and receive pensions thanks to the taxes paid by privately employed workers who make less money, pay for a far greater percentage of their health care, and are lucky if their 401(k) isn't currently in the red. I don't want to attack teachers, As Dan Yorke of WPRO says, taken individually, teachers are good people and are worthy of our respect, but when they congregate and talk contracts, something happens. The degree to which they are being influence or harangued by the union bosses is unknown to me. Regardless, and despite my personal regard for teachers, my problem is not with them per se, as it is with their seeming inability to recognize that we are in a new time. On a relative basis, they make far more, too much more, than those who pay for them. We are not asking them to work for slave wages, just to contribute "their fair share." Is that too much to ask?

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