Monday, October 20, 2008

Finally: 2 + 2 = 3!

I had the pleasure recently of reading a weekly electronic newsletter written by our district’s superintendent and sent to all the district’s employees.  

In that letter he explained to us that, although our 2% raise might not be discernible in our paychecks, we could rest assured that our medical benefits would be more comprehensive.  

In an apparent attempt to explain both the indicernible raise and the new comprehensive coverage, the superintendent wrote that on December 1, 2008, all employees will experience a 7% medical premium increase, a 7% dental premium increase, and 33% increases in both doctor visit and surgery and emergency room co-payments.  It seemed as though he was trying to say that our 2% raise would be put to good use improving our medical coverage.  This despite the fact that we were never asked on what we wanted to spend our raise.

Here’s what the newsletter did not say.  This year, for the first time in the lives and careers of hundreds of public school teachers, we will not receive an automatic cost of living step increase.  Coupled with the reality of the increase in medical premiums and a raise that doesn’t even keep up with inflation, and you have what amounts to a pay cut for the current year.  Or at least it seems that way.

At first I didn’t believe I had actually received a pay cut.  I didn’t believe that my take home pay would be less than last year. Never in my career have I received less money one year than I did the year before.  I thought maybe the fifth grade math skills I teach to children had failed me.  Maybe I used the wrong algorithm.  Perhaps I didn’t read the  math teacher’s edition as thoroughly as I should have.  

So I decided to attack this problem a different way.  I scrounged up my paycheck from exactly one year ago and compared it to this week’s paycheck.  Keeping in mind that  there is nothing new in my contract for this year, I compared the two paychecks.  I realized immediately that I had been wrong. My take home pay did increase this year.  Yes, it amounts to $3 per paycheck or $78 for the year. Whew!  What a relief!

After a few minutes of euphoria, however, the rational, mathematical part of my brain kicked in again.  If I am experiencing an extra $3 per paycheck now, will I still have it once the 7% medical premium increases kick in in December?  My guess is that the increases in the premiums will pretty much wipe out my hard earned $3.  And if they don’t, then the medical co-payments for my family of four, which will increase from $15 to $20 to see the doctor and $75 to $100 for surgery and emergency room visits, will wipe it out for sure.

No matter what creative math strategies or fancy algorithms I use to solve this story problem, I always arrive at pretty much the same answer.  My family and I are getting screwed.  I never thought I’d see the day when 2 + 2 = 3, but the day finally arrived.  It was August 6, 2008, the day I received the news from the superintendent of my enhanced medical benefits.  

With $3 more per paycheck I may have graded one more paper, assessed one more set of test results, attended one more meeting.  But since, compared to last year, I will be paid less, I think I’ll just work less.  Working less might also help me avoid the doctor and the increased co-payments.  The cost of this strategy:  priceless.  For everything else, there’s always 679 hours of sick leave.  

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