Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Glenn Beck Award*

Yes, two Glenn Beck awards in a week. It’s that kind of week. Here’s the Star-Ledger Editorial Board’s thoughts (we’re using the term loosely) on Gov. Christie’s plan to cap superintendent salaries:
We don’t want to hear any whining from school boards. They had the power to rein in salaries, but kept handing out chubby contracts, loaded with perks like cars, laptops, cell phones, fully funded health-care and exorbitant amounts of sick and vacation time.
Oh…right. The raison d’etre of volunteer school board members, who pay the same taxes as the communities they represent, is to blithely heap barrels of money and perks on incompetent superintendents. It gets us off and ignites the serotonin levels. Hey, it’s better than happy pills. Profligacy is our middle name.

Come on, guys. No doubt some superintendents get paid too much and some school boards are dysfunctional. But comparisons to the Governor’s salary are specious, and we’d love to see documentation on the assistant principal of an elementary school, cited in the editorial, earning more than $200K. Now that’s crazy.

NJ superintendent salaries – minus the few egregious cases that do indeed need to be reined in – are based on market forces. They get what they get because it’s a competitive market. “Fully funded health-care” and “exorbitant amounts of sick and vacation time” stem from NJEA contracts, which mandate the same when adjusted for 10 month vs. 12 month employees. Which is the point, isn’t it?

Any money saved from imposing salary caps on superintendents is insignificant. The value is in imposing salary caps on NJ's public education industry, starting with superintendents (a politically popular move) and extending that concept to its logical conclusion: salary caps on other administrators and teachers. And then, of course, augmenting those capped salaries (county-wide or state-wide contracts?) with merit bonuses, which is part of Christie’s proposal for superintendent compensation and also part of our Race To The Top proposal. Sort of elegant.

That’s your lede, guys, not stoning school board members.

*Award from NJ Left Behind in honor of Mr. Glenn Beck of Fox News whom Jon Stewart describes as "a guy who says what people who aren't thinking are thinking."


bosco said...

Looks like $163,400 is the highest salary for an elementary school assistant principal.

Duke said...

So let me see if I get this:

It's good to cap superintendent pay, because it's the first step in capping all administrative and teacher pay.

But don't blame school boards, because we just can't help ourselves; forces in the superintendent labor market require us to pay people what the market says they are actually worth.

By capping pay, we'll artificially constrain the labor market, so that, eventually, no one who works in a school will get paid at market rates(I guess we can worry about what that will do to the teacher labor pool later).

Is that what you're saying? Please tell me where I'm wrong.


NJ Left Behind said...

I think there's a distinction to be made between capping pay and artificially constraining labor markets (and downgrading quality of professionals). Pay caps don't have to be stagnant; they can be adjusted for inflation, context, etc. Right now 591 separate negotiating units waste taxes and promote inefficiency. Welcome to home rule.

Duke said...

I agree there's a distinction, but that doesn't change the notion that supply and demand dictate a cap will alter the labor pool.

You say caps can be dynamic - in that case, why even have them?

Reducing the number of positions through consolidation is another matter - reduction in demand will affect the price a district pays for a good superintendent. But that's very different than artificially setting that price at a point below where supply meets demand.

Look, there's a reason BOEs are willing to pay way north of $200K for a good super - the number of people qualified to do the job is low, and demand is high. People can go through the process of being certified and have all the experience and may have been good principals but that doesn't mean they are going to cut it in the front office. It's a job that demands a combination of leadership, communications, and logistical skills, in addition to educational skills, that is hard to find.

Once you find someone good at the job, you're going to want to do what it takes to hold on to them, because someone with that rare skill set will always be in high demand.

So if you artificially cap their pay, what will happen? They'll go do something else. The teacher who had the potential to develop into a good super will get out of the field if they have the ambition to do better in the market. Maybe they'll go to the private sector; maybe they'll go into health care (why is no one comparing what supers make to hospital administrators, I wonder?).

And you on the BOEs will see the quality of your pool of applicants for superintendent jobs decrease.

And, as you say, that will work its way down to principals, and then teachers...

NJ Left Behind said...

I agree completely, Duke. A great superintendent is hard to find, and good boards will do what's necessary to keep him or her happy. I'm not arguing that the superintendent cap is a good strategy, merely following it down its logical trajectory.

Duke said...

Fair enough - I couldn't tell if you were approving or not, which is why I asked. Of course, it's your blog, so you don't have to have an opinion at all.

I enjoy your work and appreciate your summaries of ed news, which is why you're on my blogroll:


NJ Left Behind said...

Thanks! I'll check out your blog too -- glad to know I'm not alone out there.