Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On the Post’s War Against MCEA, Part Two

The Post has alleged in two editorials that the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) has abused its political power “to squeeze enormous concessions from the school system in past contract negotiations.” Let’s test that claim.

The Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) releases annual reports comparing public school budget and performance statistics between suburban Washington school districts. If, as the Post alleges, MCEA is responsible for “skyrocketing payroll costs” and “extraordinary health and retirement benefits,” its members should be receiving monumental compensation increases relative to teachers in neighboring jurisdictions. Unfortunately for the Post’s editorial credibility, they don’t.

According to WABE’s report for FY 2010, MoCo teachers earn slightly more than teachers in other jurisdictions, but they work more scheduled days and more hours per day than in almost all the other districts.

MoCo teachers earn their salaries because of the county’s high cost of living and the relatively large class sizes they must face, especially in middle and high school.

MoCo teachers’ benefits are not out of line with other suburban school districts.

If MCEA members were grossly overpaid because of the union’s political power, they would be gobbling up a disproportionate amount of the MoCo public schools’ budget. In FY 2010, the MoCo public schools paid out 83.8% of its budget in labor costs. The average for suburban Washington school districts was exactly 83.8%. On this measure, MCEA is actually behind teachers in Arlington, Fairfax, Falls Church, Loudoun, Manassas and Prince William.

Finally, MCEA’s salary increases have not been abnormally high compared to teacher pay hikes in the rest of the Washington area since FY 2004. MoCo teachers have done well but have lagged teachers in other counties (especially Prince George’s) in some classifications over the last six years. MCEA is not an outlier.

And so the Post’s central point – that MCEA is gouging taxpayers – fails on casual inspection. We do not understand why the Post’s editorial writers chose not to disclose the above facts to their readers. Post-registered computers are invariably among the top viewers of this blog and we have used WABE data before.

The Post is missing one additional point that is worth mentioning. Suppose MCEA’s contract was as excessive as it contends and the county decided to cut it. The county would be prevented from doing so by the state’s Maintenance of Effort law, which mandates that counties must at least equal their prior year’s local spending per pupil to be eligible for state aid. When MCEA and the other school unions gave up their cost-of-living increase a year ago, the state punished the county with a $23 million fine. The Post understands this law very well as it opposes the fine. So the Post’s rush to demonize county politicians for failing to insist on concessions when it knows that they are prohibited from doing so by the state is illogical at best and misleading at worst.

Perhaps there is an explanation for the Post’s selective use of facts when it comes to MCEA. We will conclude with that tomorrow.