“LET US hear no more about underpaid Manchester teachers laboring without a contract.” So goes the opening statement of a recent Union Leader editorial. It goes on to admonish teachers for not willingly taking a pay cut while continuing to work as hard or harder than many would think possible. But as is often the case, whether it be in an editorial or an article, the paper skews facts in an effort to paint Manchester teachers as greedy and ungrateful when this isn’t the case.
The fact of the matter is that roughly one half of all Manchester teachers rely strictly on a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to increase their salary. Those on the schedule receive an agreed-to increase for the previous year’s service, plus the same COLA. Detractors say that this is a guaranteed raise for 14 years. It isn’t. It’s the mutual agreement made between the district and its teachers that allows for the district to slowly pay teachers what their years of schooling, training and credentialing warrant.
For those no longer receiving these steps, the proposed COLA does not meet the rate of inflation. The proposed COLA for this contract was 1 percent, while the threeyear average of the rate of inflation, on which our dastardly tax cap is based, equates to roughly 2.14 percent.
So right out of the gate teachers who have given their careers to the children and future of the city are increasing at less than half the average rate of inflation. This doesn’t even factor in the increase of insurance premiums, copays, prescriptions or deductibles.
The Union Leader likes to lump all of the numbers together. You see, it looks better for their contention that we’re sucking the city dry. We aren’t. The reality of the situation is that some plans call for a 7 percent premium, while another calls for a 14.5 percent premium. The end result of the four-year contract would have called for three different rates: 17.5 percent, 22.5 percent, or 25 percent, depending on the plan a teacher uses. About 60 percent of teachers who currently pay 7 percent would in four years pay 22.5 percent, more than tripling what they pay for their premium.
This is on top of paying four to five times more for a doctor’s visit, quadrupling ER visits, and doubling prescription costs. In the interest of full disclosure, that’s only one of our three major plans, the others have different issues and concerns, but this being the most widely used, it makes sense to focus on it.
Carrying this concept forward, a teacher on the top step of the schedule with a master’s degree would realize an increase of $674. Assuming they have a family and use the more popular plan, the increase in their insurance premium (including a one-year offset) would be $1,025.64. That’s a loss of $351, and they haven’t gone to the doctor, filled a prescription, or had an urgent care or ER visit. If their family of four averages one visit to the doctor a month, and one prescription a month, the total net loss is minimally $591. This is their thank you for dedicating their careers to the children and future of Manchester.
In year two, that same dedicated teacher would see a salary increase of $680 with an insurance increase of $1,500. Year two’s loss equals $819. Year three? They would finally see a gain, of roughly $323.73. And in year four that increase would be $88.13. Over the life of a four-year deal, that teacher would have seen an average yearly increase of $102.97 or one-tenth of a percent on their current salary. Is it greedy to think that we could do better for those who do nothing more than prepare the children of this city for their, and our, future? I don’t think it is.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and this picture shows that there is more to the issue than just glossed-over numbers. There isn’t a problem in this city that isn’t linked to the education of our children. Conversely, there isn’t a positive outcome in this city that isn’t linked to the education of our children. As the city continues to diminish the importance of education, we must ask what it means for our tomorrow. One need only read the recent report done by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies to see the dangerous path we’re going down. Righting the ship requires making education a priority, and that begins with respecting our teachers.
Benjamin Dick is president of the Manchester Education Association and an English teacher at Memorial High School.