Monday, February 13, 2012

Work to the Rule actions and midnight math

I originally wrote this on Facebook, where my friends have been linking to articles about the budget in a  neighboring county and a grass-roots work action taking place there. I realized it was a blog post in disguise, and I've been remiss in posting here. So, here's my midnight math, so named because these are the kinds of things I think about when I wake up in the middle of the night.


Some of my friends in Prince William County are participating in a work to the rule action ( That means they work only their 7 contract hours.

Some of the less sophisticated comments on the local media website make the same bogus claim that teachers get paid for the summer, when they don't work. I took a look at the salary scales on because I was curious.

Let's go with a hypothetical teacher and see if the numbers play out. New Teacher at Step 1 with a BA earns $43,612 salary on a 7-hour a day, 195 day contract. That's 1365 compensated work hours at a rate of about $31.95. That looks pretty good for an hourly rate, I'll admit. But, when I was doing bids on proposals, we calculated a full time equivalent at 2080 hours. which is 52 40-hour weeks per year, not 1365 hours, which would be 34.125 40-hour weeks per year. If New Teacher were really being paid for 12 months at her hourly rate, she'd be making $66456 per year. So, New Teacher clearly isn't getting paid for a year's work, nor are the teachers in Prince William County asking to be compensated for work they don't do.

The salary scales and contracts pay for a 195 day contract, 7 hours/day. But contract hours aren't realistic. Honestly, most teachers put in at least an extra hour each day at school and many work 4-5 hours extra per week on grading, planning, emails, etc. So, that 7-hour contract day is in reality more like a 9-hour work day for many. That drops the hourly rate to $24.85, if one were to figure in the uncompensated time. That's a whole lot of uncompensated time and a whole lot of money gone. Sure, teaching isn't just about the money, but wouldn't most people want to demonstrate how much work goes uncompensated when the numbers are that dramatic?

Some commenter have mentioned low police and fire pay, and I agree that our first responders are often undercompensated. But, even that's an apples to oranges comparison as first responders are compensated for overtime hours worked (and again, rightly so). Teachers aren't.

Additionally, while that $43612 looks good, the cost of living in Prince William County is not significantly lower than in DC. Fair market rent for an efficiency apartment for FY2012 is $1,166 (Those can be found at  So, 32% of New Teacher's gross income is spend on housing. According to HUD, "Families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care." ( Sure, she's just out of college as a 1st year teacher. But she's probably going to have to find another job to make ends meet.

And that's not going to change for the next 4 years, according to PWCS ( The school system anticipates a salary freeze through 2015. Will her rent go down in that time? Probably not. That same little apartment she's renting this year was $1,131 last year, $1,156 in FY2010, and $1,002 in FY2009. It's probably only going to get tougher to make ends meet.

And none of that figures in the pension ramifications of the pay freeze for New Teacher, which would be a whole other set of calculations.

It's not too tough to see why my Prince William colleagues are upset.