Golden Parachute for School Superintendent, Lead Balloon for Taxpayers

Posted: Feb 02, 2011 9:44 AM

The next time you hear of a school district that cannot afford new textbooks for its students, or is forced to lay off teachers due to budget constraints, remember the following story.

A former public school superintendent in Wayne Township, Indiana is comfortably settling into retirement, thanks in large part to a $1 million golden parachute provided by the local school board. He was given a lump sum payout of $817,000 plus another $200,000 for his 150-day reign as “superintendent emeritus.” I’m not sure what a “superintendent emeritus” does, but hey, it only cost the district $1,300 a day. I’m sure the taxpayers got their money’s worth, don’t you?

Unfortunately, this story is not an anomaly.

Consider the case of Central Falls, Rhode Island in which a city and its school system both teeter on the edge of financial ruin. Bet those schools are paying their teachers next to nothing, right? According to the Wall Street Journal, the district’s teachers are paid four times the median household income.

And get this: last month the U.S. Department of Education awarded $1.3 million to the Central Falls School District as part of the federal government’s effort to help turnaround the nation’s worst schools. (Please note: laughing or crying are both acceptable reactions.)

My new documentary film series, “Kids Aren’t Cars,” exposes the waste and corruption found in school districts throughout Michigan, Indiana and Illinois.

As I was making these films, I had two sad realizations. The first was that the public sector unions have done their jobs well. States throughout the country may be heading for insolvency, but the public sector unions have gamed the system and have expertly feathered their own nests.

Statistics show that wages and benefits of public sector workers have surpassed those of private sector workers. In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder reports public pay has exceeded private sector pay for over a decade. I suspect that’s the same story in most states.

The second realization I had was that taxpayers have been played for a bunch of dopes. Teachers’ unions and their political surrogates continually tell us we need to “invest” more and more in education. The reality is that while education spending has skyrocketed, student achievement has flatlined. Taxpayers are getting a rotten return on their “investment.”

Where does all the money go? A typical public school spends about 80 percent of its budget on labor costs, such as automatic annual pay raises for teachers (regardless of classroom performance), lavish health insurance and pension benefits and “sick day” buy outs, to name just a few of the costly labor expenses. Like I said, the unions have done a good job taking care of their members.

The bottom line is this: either taxpayers begin reining in the public sector unions, or the states, the taxpayers – or maybe both – are going to go bankrupt.

Americans can no longer afford to ignore these union abuses.

So the next time you hear school officials say they can’t make it without more tax money, think back on the $1 million golden parachute, or the failing Rhode Island school district that pays its teachers four times the city’s median household income. And then tell the political leaders that our public schools don’t have a funding problem – they have a spending problem.

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