March 3, 2005

Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part X

This posting continues a periodic series on Rhode Island politics and taxation, building on nine previous postings (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX).

Rhode Island politics has a history of being secretive, keeping relevant information from the citizens who fund the government. That is beginning to change. Here is one story showing how:

Many thanks to Christine Mattos of East Greenwich for using the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act to get actual East Greenwich, RI teachers' salary and healthcare benefits data. (I hear her request was met with some resistance initially.)

She has now posted the information on a website for all town residents to see. This is highly relevant because there is currently a contract dispute in East Greenwich.

Please note that, other than department chair stipends, this salary data does not include stipends received by the teachers for other activities such as coaching.

Even more interesting is the health insurance premium cost and other benefits data here and here. As you review this data, remember that the NEA thinks co-payments by the teachers are unacceptable - unless, possibly, the teachers are also awarded incremental cash compensation via some other new contract provision.

I am sure the NEA is thrilled. Nice work, Christine.

By the way, you can also find all the Cranston, RI city and school union contracts here. Congratulations to them for posting all these contracts.

The expired Warwick, RI teachers' union contract can be found here.

If your community in Rhode Island has posted either its school or town union contracts on their website, send me an email with the link and I will add it to this posting.

This is exactly what we need more of in Rhode Island - open access to factual data. Every town and school district in the state ought to put their public sector union contracts on the web. Let's really open up the debate!


From the first comment attached to this posting, you’d think we had taken a time machine back to the 1930’s when unions had a legitimate role in the USA.

But we actually didn’t go back in time; we just live in Rhode Island where public sector politics and economics are often warped. I make that statement after serving on the East Greenwich School Committee for 2 years.

During that time, I saw us hand out 9-12% annual salary increases to 9 of the 10 job steps for the 5th consecutive year. I saw us hand out zero co-payments on health insurance premiums every year. I saw us hand out $6,800/year cash bonuses for anybody who didn’t use the health insurance offering. I saw us bear the financial burden – statewide – of what is likely the richest pension program in New England.

There was a price paid for these ridiculous terms. For example, I was one of only two Committee members to vote for a full-day, academic kindergarten program – against the recommendation of the then-superintendent – because she said we didn’t have any money left over to pay for it. We also have been under spending on facility maintenance because of insufficient budget monies.

Here is what those demands translated into at a total budget level: One year during my tenure on the Committee, the total school budget in East Greenwich increased by over 9% and 93% of the increase was due to salary and benefit costs. That is nothing less than outrageous.

It’s not like we have underpaid public school teachers – RI has the 7th highest paid teachers in the USA, according to union data. But nobody considers RI schools to be anything close to 7th best in the USA – they are typically ranked in the bottom one-third. We are overpaying for underperformance thanks to these public sector union demands. That is the economic bottom line.

The demands of the public sector unions also have nothing to do with protecting workers’ salaries and benefits. After all, this is the public sector where the lack of competitive alternatives means that the economic incentives are fundamentally flawed. No, the demands of these unions amount to nothing less than legalized extortion of working families and retirees. The latest union demands in East Greenwich prove my point yet again. The only way to stop this pillaging and bring about change is through visible, public pressure.

In the meantime, the working families and retirees whose tax dollars pay for these rich salary increases and benefits are seeing 2-4% annual salary increases, experiencing health insurance co-payments of 15-30%, and getting no cash bonuses for not using insurance. The outrageous demands of the unions are causing nothing less than a reduction in the standard of living of these working families and retirees. That is morally wrong and indefensible.

There is a broader impact at the state level, where these demands translate into the 5th highest tax burden in the USA. No business executive in their right mind would move a business to RI. Why? Because it is a high-tax state with lousy public schools. The contract demands of the public sector unions are a major reason why it is a high-tax state. The consistent resistance to any educational reforms by the public sector unions is a major reason why American public education is among the worst in the industrialized countries.

What’s changing in Rhode Island? The facts are getting out, just like this posting showed. The demands of the unions and the spineless responses of politicians and bureaucrats are now increasingly visible to RI taxpayers, who are disgusted by all of their behaviors. There is no turning back – people will continue to publicize these facts.

The unions, politicians and bureaucrats will continue to receive well-deserved heat until they wake up and realize that the only economically viable course is to accept salary increases, co-pays, and pension benefits just like the rest of us, the working families and retirees who pay their salaries. It is all we ask.


Disclosure on 3/9/05: I have never met Ms. Mattos. I called her for the first time in the last 24 hours after hearing from someone else about the questions she raised at this week's East Greenwich School Committee meeting.

One of the comments attached to this posting states:

Wow, Ms. Mattos seems to be very mean spirited. Imagine taking the time to list all those names and salaries. Why would anyone become a teacher in East Greenwich if they had to deal with folks like her?

The comment is over-the-top and unfair to Ms. Mattos. It is also unfair to the taxpayers of East Greenwich who deserve to know that their tax money is being spent appropriately and managed in a fiscally sound manner.

First, Ms. Mattos is correct that being a public official means that information about you is legally public information. It is no different than being an executive in a public corporation. Your information is transparent to the public you serve.

Second, the bigger issue is that the taxpayers of East Greenwich have been putting up with endless public misrepresentations by the NEA about teacher salary and benefits facts. The misrepresentations are documented here. Why isn't the author of the comment responding to these verifiable outrages? It is these actions which have initiated multiple efforts to make more factual information available to the residents.

Third, if anything can be called mean-spirited, it is having two School Committee members receiving personal threats:

The threats were made the way such threats usually are, in an anonymous and cowardly fashion. One was made in a post-midnight phone call in which the caller said the school committee member's children would be run over if contract talks dragged on much longer. The other threat was delivered in the form of a letter left on another school committee member's automobile, stating the contract needed to be settled "for security reasons."

Fourth, it has been an unfortunate practice of far too many East Greenwich school leaders to provide insufficient information to the town's residents. Certain past and current school leaders, like many public sector players, have:

Failed to disclose some or all of the relevant facts;

Failed to answer questions completely or provided only partial answers to questions;

Violated basic governance rules and regulations; and,

Lied outright

to the very people they are supposed to serve.

Ms. Mattos - as well as the rest of us - would not be pursuing information in the way we are if the school leadership did right by the town's residents. This point is reinforced by reading what she herself wrote on her website.

Two local newspaper articles this week, one from the North East Independent and one from the East Greenwich Pendulum, drive this point home by showing how casual the public sector can be with taxpayer funds. As a corporate executive, I would be shredded by my Board of Directors if I presented such inaccurate and incomplete information to them. Ms. Mattos deserves our thanks for ensuring that the assumptions and logic in the school budget are properly vetted so citizens can be knowledgeable about and confident in the the budget. She also deserves credit for pointing out how the nature of public sector union contracts ensures very little money is left for things that directly impact our children. You can learn more about the specific questions she raised at the School Committee meeting by going here and here.

The problems with some of the East Greenwich school leadership could be due to incompetence, undisciplined thinking, lousy time management or a willful attempt to mislead. It doesn't matter which explanation is correct - the performance is simply unacceptable.

They are spending $28 million of our money. Why is it so hard for them to bring the same clarity and discipline to the school budget that each of us brings to our own family budget?

It all comes down to having the proper level of accountability to the working families and retirees whose hard-earned monies fund the school operations. Complete transparency is the best way to ensure such accountability.

On behalf of East Greenwich residents, I want to thank Ms. Mattos for investing her personal time to improve the accountability of our school leadership.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

I'm sure there's a point, other than to belittle the NEA.... but I just don't see it.

I love the little shot at the NEA. It's not that the NEA does or doesn't view copays as acceptable or unacceptable, it's that they are a UNION, protecting the benefits and salaries of it's members... that is, after all, the sole reason for unions to exist, isn't it?

also... you make a point about Warwick.. the EXPIRED contract. However, the school department refuses to bargain in good faith and knows it holds the upper hand... are the citizens in Warwick holding the school board or superintendent accountable? no, of course not. But the minute there's an actual strike, after working TWO YEARS without a valid contract, they'll hold the teachers and thier union responsible, won't they? That's because people have the same viewpoint you have (and I used to share): the teachers and thier unions are wrong.

Well, that view and everything about it is wrong and speaks volumes of one of the major problems with the education system.

Posted by: Jim S at March 4, 2005 6:41 PM

I am an NEA member, but not a teacher. ( yes, the NEA represents more than just teachers). I am a state worker who has not received a raise in the last 3 years. My union thinks it has done me a favor by holding away any co-share of my healthcare premium. I'm supposed to take solace in their preservation of a fat, socialistic healthcare plan that over-serves me in return for no raise. Why don't they offer options that include high deductible plans ( options, options, options!!!!) that would save the state huge dollars in premium cost and negotiate a sharing of the savings between the hard-working taxpayers and employees like me? The teachers may think the NEA is serving their needs but eventually their raises will dwindle as taxpayers awaken.

Posted by: SeanO at March 6, 2005 10:35 PM

I agree with the author's point that decisions should be data driven. Unfortunately, editorializing the issue makes it more opinion than fact. The author should follow his own advice.

I have a question. In what way does posting a teacher's name and salary show good faith in bargaining efforts? Other cities post the salary scale, but to list a teacher's name and the income she earns is unethical. Furthermore, the information provided is incorrect.

Posted by: Sal P at March 9, 2005 5:16 PM

Regarding the 'editorializing of data' and the unethical nature of posting teacher name and salary: when one decides to become a PUBLIC employee, one should expect that their name and salary are PUBLIC information. If you don't want either published, then become employed by a private institution. This data does nothing to undermine the bargaining position of either interested party. Taxpayers are footing the $28 million bill, we should know how this money is being allocated. Your opinion is ill informed, and irrational.

Posted by: christine mattos at March 9, 2005 6:59 PM

"I agree with the author's point that decisions should be data driven. Unfortunately, editorializing the issue makes it more opinion than fact. The author should follow his own advice."

I must admit to finding myself rather amused by this author's comment, which suggests a lack of understanding about the difference between data and the analysis of such data.

Data, without analysis (or, per the author's word, editorializing), is nothing more than a data dump without meaning.

It is only by combining data with analysis that it is possible to interpret the data in a way that allows meaningful conclusions to be reached.

It is certainly possible, at times, for reasonable people to look at the same information and reach different analytical conclusions.

However, in the case of Rhode Island public sector costs and performance, the data is compelling and points to a clear conclusion: We are overpaying for underperformance - and the working people and retirees of RI cannot afford this status quo.

To better understand the magnitude of the problems here in RI, I would encourage everyone to begin by reading this posting - the ninth part of an ongoing series on RI politics and taxation. Within that posting, it is possible to trace back to the previous eight postings - all of which will provide further insights into our challenges.

Posted by: Donald B. Hawthorne at March 9, 2005 9:33 PM

Wow, Ms. Mattos seems to be very mean spirited. Imagine taking the time to list all those names and salaries. Why would anyone become a teacher in East Greenwich if they had to deal with folks like her?

Posted by: Peter at March 10, 2005 5:33 PM


Is any reasonable person supposed to believe that posting public information is mean spirited? I have gone out of my way not to superimpose my opinion of the data. In fact, I haven't posited an opinion anywhere. If you had attended any of the last three school committee meetings, you would know this. You, however, seem eager to share your opinion about me, and to the best of my knowledge, we haven't met. But who knows, maybe we have, but you didn't identify yourself, so I will never know.

I doubt that the majority of teachers would avoid working in "the best school district" in the state because public information is posted on a web site by 'mean spirited' people like me.

Christine Mattos

Posted by: christine mattos at March 10, 2005 9:44 PM