The Numbers Don’t Add Up

This is an excerpt from a local newspaper owned by Gannett. Something struck me as puzzling. Can you spot it?

Teaneck Opens Full-Day Pre-K Classes Through Grant 1

About a dozen giggling 4-year-olds stood and danced Thursday morning in a brightly decorated classroom in Bryant Elementary School, watching their teacher as she showed them new moves to try.

The class is one of seven full-day pre-K classes that opened this month in the district, thanks to a $1.2 million grant Teaneck received from the state.

The grant, which fully funded the program, paid for four teachers, four aides, an early childhood supervisor and a parent liaison…..

Although the grant covers only this year, school officials are hopeful the district will continue to receive state funding to carry on and eventually expand the program…..


I’m omitting the rest of the article which had nothing else pertinent to the matter I want to discuss here.

Can you spot what tripped me up?

The numbers don't add up
The numbers don’t add up

Here what’s wrong, in my eyes. First let’s make some simple assumptions. The personnel mentioned in the story would earn estimated annual salaries as follows.
Supervisor, 1 x $90K.
Teachers, 4 x $75K.
Aides (including parent liaison), 5 x $45K.
Now add 30% to those amounts for typical fringe benefits such as health insurance and pension contribution.

I think these figures are in line with going rates in New Jersey.

That adds up to $800K. What happens to the other $400K out of $1.2 million? Not a word about that.

As the expression goes: the numbers don’t add up.

There’s probably a good explanation. Or at least an explanation. Perhaps $400K goes to our already overpaid administrators?

But my point here is not about local government. My point is, can’t journalists do arithmetic?

I understand that reporters have deadlines, and don’t have time to pursue all the questions for every story. Editors are supposed to provide some quality control, but typically they aren’t paying attention to the numbers.

I see this phenomenon all too often, in the national as well as local press. Reporters present numbers and statistics without thinking them through. I will be writing on this theme again going forward. Look for stories labeled with “journalism”.

Of course, the tribulations of the news business today are well known. Gannet, publisher of the piece above, and many other traditional media companies are in a downward spiral financially, as hard-copy readers evaporate, and with them the advertisers who support the whole enterprise. Online publishing theoretically could fill the vacuum, but publishers haven’t been able to corral the revenue in the face of the Google/Facebook advertising duopoly.

But what we recognize at the traditional editorial function is not going away; it is migrating to new venues. Wherever all the laid-off reporters and editors end up, I expect they still will be publishing just as many dubious numbers and statistics as they always have.

Notes

  1. North Jersey Record, Jan. 10, 2019

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