Thursday, January 31, 2013

Skyrocketing Executive Pay and the Educational Salary Gap

Superintendent Fat Cat?

Despite the passage of California’s Proposition 30, which holds the state’s education funding steady at 2011-2012 levels, none of the $20 billion that has been slashed from K-12 funding over the past 4 years will be restored. Consequently, school districts will continue to operate on austere budgets, with overcrowded classrooms, reduced course offerings, and reduced numbers of teachers, librarians, nurses and counselors. This has led to a record 188 state school districts at risk of financial collapse. Yet, like the bailed out banks and automobile industry, many districts have managed to find the money to offer their top executives lavish raises.

Perhaps the most notable example is Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)—the nation’s second largest school district—which has struggled with a $2.8 billion deficit over the past five years, while laying off 10,000 teachers. At the same time as LAUSD has cut teachers and services, it has boosted Superintendent John Deasy’s salary from $275,000 to $330,000 (according to the Bay Citizen)—roughly five times the average teacher’s salary. Since 2009, LAUSD has increased its superintendent’s salary 32%.

California Watch has investigated 40 of the largest districts on the state’s financial watch list (those at risk of financial insolvency) and found that more than half have raised their superintendents’ salaries since 2009. For example, Riverside Unified School District raised Superintendent Richard Miller’s pay from $267,208 to $314,963, despite having cut $100 million from its budget since 2008-09. The Lynwood Unified School District raised its superintendent’s pay by roughly 23%, from $200,000 to $245,000, two years ago, even though it has had ongoing budget deficits, including its current deficit of $6.8 million.

While the primary cause of California’s education budget problems has been the declining business, property and income tax rates, overly generous executive pay has added to the problem. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie capped superintendent salaries and New York is considering similar legislation, the Bay Citizen reported. A superintendent pay cap is not currently under consideration in California.

Proponents of high superintendent pay argue that superintendents are charged with much bigger and more important responsibilities (i.e., protecting and nurturing the “innocents”) than are corporate executives, yet they are paid only a fraction of what CEO’s of similar sized companies are paid. On the other hand, CEO pay has been skyrocketing over the past few decades and is now at its highest level ever relative to the median pay of their employees, contributing to the growing wealth and income gap and declining working and living standards for the majority of Americans.

It is also complete nonsense that executives need or deserve to earn 1,000 times, 100 times or even 2 times more than their employees. This argument is based on the fallacious notion that responsibility for large budgets and large numbers of employees is tougher and more valuable than other occupations. Yet it is the employees who do all the really difficult work. It is the employees who create the profits in private business and the bosses who pocket the difference between the wealth they create and their salaries. Though superintendents do not earn profits from their teachers’ labor, they have far more control over their own working conditions (and consequently less stress) than teachers. It is the teachers who have the most direct influence over the safety and success of the “innocents.” It is the teachers who design creative and engaging curriculum; create positive, nurturing classroom environments; and who communicate with parents about their children’s wellbeing and needs. So if it’s really all about the children, then it is the teachers, not the superintendents, who should be getting the six-figure salaries and 20-30% raises. 

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