Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Post Cherrypicks Teacher Salary Data

In its latest attempt to annihilate the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), the Washington Post may have done the unthinkable: cherrypick data from a lowly blog in order to manipulate its readers.

The Post ran editorials on February 5 and February 11 depicting MCEA as a “toxic influence” seeking to “squeeze enormous concessions” from MoCo taxpayers. Its new editorial focuses on former MCEA President Bonnie Cullison’s solicitation of contributions from elected officials in her unsuccessful run for national union office over a year ago. We will not contest the fact that MCEA is influential in county politics; indeed, your author labeled the union as “the 800-pound gorilla of MoCo politics” in his very first blog post. But the Post’s allegation that the union’s strength is harmful rests on the notion that it has extracted excessive contracts from the county government.

In its new editorial dated February 22, the Post writes the following:

The intimate entanglement of interests between elected officials and the union is all about swapping favors, including some rather large ones that have put county taxpayers on the hook for many millions of dollars. Most officeholders, frightened of provoking the MCEA’s wrath, are loath to question any provision of the generous, and now unaffordable, contracts that the union has negotiated on behalf of teachers. In effect, local officeholders are so beholden to the union that they have forfeited their obligation to exercise independent oversight over contract negotiations.

One result is that the average salary for a Montgomery County teacher, $76,483, is the highest among suburban school systems in the Washington area, according to the Washington Area Boards of Education, a regional group. Another is that the salary of a typical Montgomery teacher -- one with 10 years of experience when the last contract went into effect in 2007 -- has jumped by 23 percent in the past three years, even as private-sector wages have stagnated. Since 2004, teacher salaries in Montgomery have increased at a significantly faster rate than in other suburban school systems -- the lone exception being Prince George's County, which started from a low base and has had to play catch-up.
We published extensive data on teacher salaries from the Washington Boards of Education six days before the latest anti-MCEA editorial. We published the average teacher salary quoted by the Post. In calculating growth rates for salaries, we picked 2004 as our base year. We compared MCPS salary growth to other suburban systems since 2004. We are not aware of comparative data pegged to 2004 having been previously published anywhere else. All of these items now appear in the Post editorial. Seeing as how computers with Post-registered IP addresses are consistently among our top viewers, it is a bit hard to believe that their replication of our methodology is a total coincidence.

Now here is the full spreadsheet on teacher salaries that we published. It tells a very different story than the Post is spreading to its readers.

For beginning teachers with bachelors degrees, MCPS teachers have seen an annual average salary increase of 3.1% since 2004, which ranked seventh among nine suburban school districts. For step nine teachers with masters degrees and all teachers combined, MCPS’s salary increase ranked second. For maximum teacher scale, MCPS’s salary increase ranked third. MCEA performed well, but its results are not out of line with the rest of the area. The Post also ignored the fact that the percentage of MCPS’s budget going to labor costs is identical to the area average and is below Arlington, Fairfax, Falls Church, Loudoun, Manassas and Prince William. The totality of the evidence contradicts the Post’s central point that MCEA is abusing taxpayers by bullying politicians. And let’s not forget that MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast, who negotiated those salary increases, could not be bullied by King Kong!

We understand that the Post does not like unions and that it especially dislikes teacher unions. But the paper’s editorial writers have a responsibility to their readers to evaluate information fairly in arriving at their opinions. When the Post cherrypicks data assembled by a mere blog to manipulate its readers towards its preconceived conclusion, it is doing both its readers and its reputation a disservice.

Is it time to bring back the Boy King?