Today Vincent Ready announced that he had too many commitments to take on the position as mediator in the labour dispute involving teachers and the government via their negotiating arm BCPSEA. This comes on the heels of a full page ad being taken out by the BC Government in 24 Hours Vancouver on Friday, June 20.
In an amazing twist of irony, the ad is also found on the “Province of British Columbia’s official Education and Literacy page” on Facebook.
While the ad is certainly compelling visually, there’s a rather fundamental mathematical problem with the government’s calculations. I think most British Columbians would agree that “Teachers deserve a fair wage increase. But it needs to be affordable”. But when the government makes such an elementary mistake in their calculation, it makes one rather suspicious of other claims that they might be making.
Let’s do a little mathematics.
Suppose that the total amount of money spent on teacher salaries in the province of British Columbia is: S
Suppose that the total amount of money spent on teacher benefits (pension, health, dental, disability etc) is: B
Benefits are almost always assigned as a percentage p of total salary so that:
(1) B = p × S
Then the present total compensation T0 to teachers including benefits is:
(2) T0 = S + B = S + p × S = (1 + p) × S
In the advertisement, the government says the teachers are asking for an 8% salary increase (over 5 years) and a 6.5% improvement in their benefits.
So by the end of the 5 year agreement the total compensation T5 to teachers would be:
(3) T5 = T0 + 0.08 × S + 0.065 × p × S = (1 + p) × S + 0.08 × S + 0.065 × p × S = (1.08 + 1.065 × p) × S
We can get a pretty good idea of the ttotal amount of money spent on teacher salaries and benefits in the Province of British Columbia from the Ministry of Education website. Table 6 of the BC School District Expenditure and Revenue Tables notes that in 2013/14, a total of $3,125,629,458 was spent on all teacher salaries combined and a total of $792,384,192 was spent on total benefits. Benefits therefore represent 25% of the salary costs so:
(4) p = 0.25
Now when we plug p from Equation 4 into Equations 2 and 3 we get:
(5) T0 = 1.25 × S
(6) T5 = 1.35 × S
The ratio of T5 to T0 gives us the overall compensation increased proposed by the BCTF.
(7) T5 / T0 = 1.08
The proposed teacher wage increase is 8.0% increase over 5 years when the overall package is considered (including benefits). How could this number be so different from the government’s number in the above advertisement? Well the answer is simple, the BC Government added the 8% salary increase to the 6.5% benefit increase to get their 14.5% overall increase. Their math is just plain wrong and frankly I think they owe the general public, let alone the teachers, an apology for misleading them particularly in light of the fact that funds for the advertisement probably arose from public money. In addition, it is embarrassing, to say the least, to see this advertisement proudly displayed on the official BC Education and Literacy Facebook page.
Now, more than ever, it is important for the Liberal government to find a mediator to bring rationality back into the negotiations. I think we can all agree that teacher’s need a fair wage increase but at the same time, it’s pretty clear to me that government could use a lesson or two in math. Our children, their parents and the teachers in the classroom deserve better.