Archive for January 18th, 2012

Getting What We Pay For

by lizard

With Dave Gallik resigning, there’s been quite a frenzy of speculation. In the comment thread of j-girl’s post, some comments from James C. and Pete T. caught my attention, and considering some other headlines in the paper today, deserve some additional consideration. Here are the comments :

James: If the job paid better, much better, we might get better people, and people who don’t feel the need to moonlight.

Pete: While I tend to agree, James, by Missoula payroll standards, $57+k ain’t chump change. If this job opens up, I’m available.

James: It may not be chump change by Missoula standards, Pete, but I don’t think that’s the standard against which the commish’s ought to be measured. It’s an important position and the salary ought to be commensurate with the responsibility, and with the professional credentials necessary to do the job well. We do get what we pay for. In this case, we didn’t pay for much and we’re not getting much.

I see James point of view, and agree whole heartedly that a salary “ought to be commensurate with the responsibility”, but all I need to do to rattle that notion is mention teachers.

According to teacher-portal, a teacher in Montana has an average starting salary of $25,000, and an average overall salary of just under $40,000. I’m not sure if those numbers hold up, but they sound about right from those I know who teach in Montana. Considering the responsibility of, you know, helping to shape the future of America by teaching its youth, I’d say we, as a society, are failing big time.

But not everyone in education gets so meagerly compensated. Here’s the headline that jumped out at me this morning: Regents Likely to Pay Higher Education Commissioner $283K Salary.

I guess the thinking goes, in order to attract quality candidates, the salary and benefits need to be comparable to similar administrative positions. Here is a big chunk from the article.

That annual salary is a pay increase of $69,487 above what Commissioner of Higher Education Sheila Stearns earns currently, but it’s the same annual salary as University of Montana President Royce Engstrom and Montana State University President Waded Cruzado.

The state has offered Christian a deferred compensation package worth $455,000 over 10 years, if the commissioner stays on for five or more years. That is slightly less than the deferred compensation plans offered to both Engstrom and Cruzado, which are worth $500,000 each.

The deferred compensation plan becomes available to the 46-year-old Christian at age 65, when he will receive $35,000 annually for three years and $50,000 annually for seven years, totaling $455,000 over a decade. The plan is a way for the university system to sweeten the pot for Montana’s upper-level university management, who are generally making $60,000 to $80,000 less than their counterparts in four surrounding states, said Kevin McRae, associate commissioner for communication and human resources.

But being competitive doesn’t make sense for this particular pay increase, because the position was never advertised or opened to the public, something that has caused a little bit of grumbling. But grumbling doesn’t really seem to bother the decision makers. It didn’t back when Alex Apostle got his lavish pay increase (after asking teachers to basically forego theirs), and it won’t now.

Economic disparity is a serious problem that those at the top don’t have to take seriously (yet). They have their rationalizations, and if that doesn’t work, they can afford private security.

It’s too bad those same rationalizations don’t work for those lowly teachers who toil in overcrowded classrooms and buy their own supplies.

I remember seeing something recently about the Finnish education system, so I looked around and found this BBC News report. Here is a little tidbit that sounds so nice, I wish it applied here, in the states:

Teaching is a prestigious career in Finland. Teachers are highly valued and teaching standards are high.

Maybe someday we’ll be able to say the same for our teachers. Because despite all the rationalizations, I fail to see how paying administrators more money will make our education system any better. Instead of increasing the quality of teachers, it will just increase the cleverness of formulaic schemes to bring drop-out rates down.

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