A lesson in AIG bonus math

March 19, 2009

Sarah Knopp, a public school teacher in Los Angeles, looks at what we could pay for with the federal government's bailout money that went to bonuses for AIG executives.

HOW MUCH is $165 million? It's the amount that AIG says they need to pay in bonuses to executives in their financial products division. Since the U.S. government has given AIG over $170 billion so far, and controls 80 percent of the company, we can safely say that the money being given to these loser execs is our money.

$165 million also turns out to be almost the exact amount of money that it would take to save all of the 2,000 permanent elementary school teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District who were just given pink slips (assuming an average salary and benefits cost of $80,000 per teacher).

So for the same amount of money that we gave to the people who helped to invent things like "credit default swaps" and "collateralized debt obligations" that threaten to pull down the entire U.S. economy, we could keep 2,000 more teachers in the elementary schools in Los Angeles.

If the 2,000 permanent, fully credentialed (some would say "tenured," but this seems laughable now) teachers lose their jobs, class sizes for our youngest children would likely go up. Many kids could lose some of their favorite teachers if administrators get "bumped" out of their offices and into the classrooms that they had tried to escape.

An AIG corporate office in Hong Kong

The 2,000 "permanent" teachers may lose their houses. Some 3,500 non-permanent teachers and 500 counselors need to be saved, too, but to get that kind of money, we would actually have to expect so much as to look beyond the bonuses for AIG executives; those would "only" be enough to save the "permanent" elementary school teachers.

AIG says that it has to pay these bonuses because it is contractually obligated to do so. Funny how "contractually obligated" only seems to hold water when it applies to rich people.

Our school district is supposed to be contractually obligated to keep "permanent" teachers on the payroll. It's supposed to be contractually obligated, and obligated by State Education Code, to keep class sizes low in the K-3 grades. But they violate these contractual class-size obligations whenever they claim poverty.

Back in 1992, "financial hardship" even justified the district cutting teacher salaries and not living up to other key provisions in the contract. Funny how "financial hardship" is no excuse for getting out of contracts with AIG execs or other rich people.

Many of us teachers had an idea for saving our district hundreds of millions of dollars: cancel contracts with outside consultants and other private-sector service providers. The school board told us that they would like to, but can't: many of these outside, for-profit agencies have multiple-year contracts with the district.

"Poverty" and "bankruptcy" allow them to escape obligations to workers and students, whether it's class sizes or pensions. But not, apparently, the obligation to line the pockets of their real bosses.

We want the AIG money back.

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