October 5, 2007

Math Mea Culpa

Justin Katz

An apology may be in order for my having not been fast enough on my feet as I've attempted to keep track of Tiverton teacher union negotiations amidst all of the other things on my schedule. I should have caught the accounting trick in this, but the reporter's and the union's presentation left me merely confused:

Teachers changed their proposal from a three-year contract to a two-year contract, but deMedeiros said the percentage salary increases did not differ much from a previous proposal. Instead of asking for 3.75 percent each year for three years, the latest proposal was for a total of 8 percent over two years. ...

A second offer made by the union at the end of the night was for 3.5 percent salary increases in year one, 3.75 in year two, and annual health benefit co-shares of $1,150 in year one and $1,300 in year two, Crowley said.

The Providence Journal clarified some today:

The financial impact of the two union proposals made on Tuesday appears to be in the eye of the beholder.

The one with 2 percent raises every six months would have resulted a cumulative hike of 8.25 percent in teachers’ base pay at the end of the second year.

The subsequent union offer raised the base pay by a cumulative 7.25 percent, or 1 percent less.

But because of the way the 2-percent raises were timed in the first offer, the cumulative 7.25-percent increase proposed in the second proposal would have cost the town more.

And here's how the NEA's Patrick Crowley attempted to deceive Anchor Rising readers into buying his spin:

Their proposal would cost you, as a Tiverton Taxpayer, more money. You should be outraged. Also, even using their math, what is more... 8 or 7.25? Obviously, it is 8. Unless you are a Tiverton School Committee member, and then 7.25 is more than 8.

Crowley's assessment is correct, I suppose, if one is mainly concerned with the rate at which teachers will find themselves when they negotiate their next contract in two years. But from the point of view of the school committee — and the taxpayers who elected them — the second proposal would indeed cost more. If (on top of step increases, remember) teachers get two percent raises every six months, that is equivalent to a little over three percent more money for the year.* Therefore, putting the first proposal in the terms that Crowley uses for the second proposal, the comparison is actually between 6% and 7.25%.

I guess we can take comfort in the knowledge that any teachers seeking examples while explaining to their students how numbers can be used for deceptive (dishonest) purposes need look no farther than their own union. Me, I'm still shaking my head that teachers want this to be their representation to the public.

* It's "a little over" because the second two percent would be based on the first two percent raise: Starting from $100 per year, the first raise would bring the six-month pay amount to $51, and the second raise would yield $52.02, for a full year salary of $103.02, or 3.02% more.

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That's the same explanation I used and I think it's like trying to convince a flat-Earther that the world is round, with a globe and images from the Moon and a note from God and then still saying "No way, man. The world IS flat and you've bought into the government disinformation campaign."

Posted by: Greg at October 5, 2007 7:38 PM


Numbers are flying around everywhere. I am having a very hard time keeping up as well, especially since the press is not the most reliable source for info. That being said, I show (see below) a cumulative 2 yr effect of 7.18% for proposal #1 versus a cumulative 2 yr effect of 7.38% for proposal #2. (To get a true apples to apples comparison between the two you need to carry out your example for all years involved.) So, unless I am missing something, I still show the 2nd salary proposal going up, but only by .2%. In the Projo article you referenced was also this:
“Crowley said that factor (referencing the salary increase) was offset by increases in the amount teachers were willing to pay for health insurance as well as the elimination of other requests that would have had a financial impact.
DeMedeiros’ initial statement contended the union’s most recent offer decreased the amount of health insurance. And Rearick contended that the union did not drop other financial demands.
Information released by the union shows that the latest proposal went $50 higher in second-year family health insurance premiums than the second-year portion of a three-year offer made early last month. As for individual health insurance, the union’s latest proposal was $25 lower the first year than the corresponding portion of the contract offer made early last month, according to information provided by Crowley and union president Amy Mullen at various times.”
So the union contends they offered up other things to offset that .2% difference. The school committee folks disagree. So unless one of us has access to these proposals, we don’t really know what is going on in there. I don’t agree that a .2% difference with or without the other concessions is quite worth the indignation that Mr. Burk claims or sending this into non-binding arbitration. I elected them to negotiate on my behalf and they have only been meeting directly for a little less than a month. But I couldn’t agree more about why our teachers would even allow Mr. Crowley to speak on their behalf.

Here is my analysis starting with the $100 base:

1st proposal: 2 yr cumulative 7.18%

Y1:6mo=$51.0;6mo=52.02 Total$103.02 Y2:6mo=$53.06;6mo=54.12 Total$107.18

2nd proposal: 2 yr cumualtive 7.38%


Posted by: WillP at October 6, 2007 11:15 AM


Since we're talking about the salary cost of the contract, you skipped a step in your math: To find the difference between the proposals, you would have to add the "new" money from each year. Thus:

Proposal 1: $10.20
Proposal 2: $10.88

Since we're using a $100 scale, the difference is 0.68%, not 0.2%, as you'd said.

Even this may not seem like a substantial change, but it's actually among the largest movements I've seen the union make (of course it's in the wrong direction). If it's not worthy of indignation from the school committee, why is the same or less worth the teachers' harming the students through work to rule?

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 6, 2007 7:28 PM


Normally, I do not comment on the specifics of on-going negotiations, but this has been widely discussed in the press and I was actually in Tiverton last Tuesday, here is my two cents:

1) The second proposal was lower than the first, and it did move the parties closer together.

2) It is not useful to escalate the tensions that already exist in Tiverton as this will eventaully settle, which will require the parties to come together to do so.

3) I understand that most folks don't "get" negotiations, but ultimately, negotiations are about signals and questions as much as anything else, so here is how to interpret what happened that night:

a) the first union proposal to the school committee asked two questions - does a two year deal make more sense at this point, and would being creative with the wage increases help?

b) School committee response - yes, a two year proposal makes sense, and no, those two percent half year raises look higher, and, we agree to one other small thing you asked for, and have a few things on health care, and let's keep moving,

c) union response - OK, two years it is, and we'll go back to a regular wage proposal, lower than before, make movement in other areas, including health care, and drop two of our other proposals to show we want to get this moving too.

(I can also tell you at this point the conversation among the teachers was making sure everyone was comfortable staying all night as the goal was finally potentially within reach.)

d) Then the disconnect came - the school committee thought (incorrectly, as it turned out) that the last union proposal was higher, not lower, and sent the request for non-binding arbitration.

Ultimately, cooler heads need to prevail and this needs to get back on track, and that will happen a lot more quickly through negotiations than through non-binding arbitration.

And, by the way, there is no reason that negotiations cannot continue while the request for non-binding arbitration makes its way through the system, and the subsequent hearings are held, especially since the judge, if memory serves, ordered these folks to meet as part of the back to work order.

Posted by: Bob Walsh at October 6, 2007 8:28 PM


I didn't realize that the union was being so reasonable. I'll just email the school committee and request that they retract their requirement that teachers cease all non-contracted activities.

Now if only you'd cite numbers to explain your assertions...

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 6, 2007 9:24 PM

Your math on the 10.20/10.88 is correct, but misses the rest of the story - the union proposal shifted other cost saving proposals to year 2 from year 3 in the second round and dropped proposals with costs attached to more than offset the difference. This is not unusual when shifting proposals to match a shorter time frame. The other factor involved was the dropped third year - the 2-2-2-2 proposal leads to a day one figure (starting base) in year 3 of 108.24. The 3.5-3.75 proposal yields a day one figure in year three of 107.38. Presumably, the school committee realized that.

Nonetheless, having done this work for 15 years, I have been in negotiating situations in the past where one side or the other made a proposal that, when taken as a whole, was mathematically backwards. The normal response to this situation is to ask for clarification and, if it bears out the proposal went the "wrong way", ask for a new proposal. The reaction in this situation was unusual, and I hope that upon reflection, the school committee will adopt a different approach more conducive to a quicker resolution.

Posted by: Bob Walsh at October 6, 2007 11:54 PM

Maybe the Tiverton school committee, realizing that the NEA's people are professional flim-flam artists and they are simple civic-minded taxpayers, decided to bring in the arbitrator to help cut through your crap.

Posted by: Greg at October 7, 2007 1:53 AM

And maybe the days of business as usual are done.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 7, 2007 8:10 AM

And maybe this school committee will be history come the November elections given their history of missteps, deception and unprofessional behavior.

Posted by: WillP at October 8, 2007 1:20 PM
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