Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Fair Pay

Posted by bsflag2007 on Monday, January 1, 2007

Wall Street passed out “Xmas” Bonuses this year in the tens of millions of dollars.  Some guy got a $54 mil bonus, others got equally absurd checks.   How does one “earn” a $54mil dollar “bonus?  The simple answer is, he doesn’t.

Sorry, but there is no “earning” involved in these paychecks.  Maybe”reap” (or some variation of those letters) or “procure” – but not “earn”.

It will probably come as a surprise that when it comes to this ludicrous “compensation” arrangement – I really don’t care.   I (probably) wouldn’t turn down a check for $54mil – even after taxes.

No, how much these guys agree to pay each other does not concern me nearly as much as how much “we” pay the people who actually “work” for “us”.

The Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Justice Roberts, has weighed in with his concerns about judicial pay.  He says it “threatens the judiciary”.

Roberts says low judicial salaries are “grievously unfair”.  “Pay for federal judges is so inadequate that it threatens to undermine the judiciary’s independence.”

Roberts said  “the judiciary will not properly serve its constitutional role if it is restricted to people so wealthy that they can afford to be indifferent to the level of judicial compensation, or to people for whom the judicial salary represents a pay increase.”

Essentially – the best and the brightest who are not independently wealthy cannot afford to become judges.

Go ahead and cry for the poor judge who “only” “earns” a couple hundred thousand dollars per year.   But while you play the “air violin” in mock sympathy for his hardship – take a look at the “applicant pool” for judges.   How much is a a good judge worth?  Do we want “the best”?  Or is this the place where “we” can scrimp?

Do we want the best lawyers (ok, best and most expensive are not necessarily synonomous, but a pretty good guage) take huge pay cuts to become judges… with the idea that they can capitalize financially on their positions later?  or do we want the run of the mill, struggling practitioner who considers the judges’ salary the “big bucks”?

Or do we “only” hire the “true believers”…. the righteous souls who have a calling and are unconcerned with material comforts?  (I think the Vatican has dibs on them… except for the women, of course).   That has worked so well with teachers and the state of education.  They should be so proud to be teachers/judges that they are willing to work long, thankless hours simply for the pleasure of contributing to society.   As Dr. Phil would say… “How’s that working for you?”

Here in HoCo we have our own local contradictory expectation/compensation systems.  Our school system (a $500 million plus per year enterprise) is overseen by 7 folks who “earn” roughly $14,000 per year.   “We” put these people in charge of 1/2 of our County budget, the education of our children,  and allow them influence over the value of our greatest investments (for most of us our homes) —-  and we expect them to do it basically as “volunteers”.

In theory it is a “parttime” oversight position.  But it really isn’t, and hasn’t been for some time.   Which is why there is a built in bias against folks who are gainfully employed in fulltime jobs.  The voters consistantly tell us “we don’t think you can do this job and a regular job at the same time” by voting for the retired folks and the professional volunteers in the community.  The current (new) board has two members with “jobs” (Frank Aquino and Ellen Giles).  The last BOE had two also, one elected- one appointed.   Contradictory demands and counterproductive pay.

The County Council is more reasonably compensated – but their numbers also beg the questions of “why would anyone want this job” and “why would anyone put themselves through a campaign” to get it?

Some jobs truly cannot be adequately compensated.  I just cringe when I hear a comment about a policeman who has been shot, or a fireman who has been burned “that’s what they get paid for”.  NO, it isn’t.  They get paid for patrolling the streets, training, teaching, filling out paperwork, inspecting buildings …. risking their lives is something they “give from the heart”.     Same thing for the professional soldiers.

There are people who get “paid” to get shot at —- they make A LOT of money.  They’re called “mercenaries”.

And then, of course, there is the issue of “minimum wage” —- a whole ‘nother discussion.

Sadly, everyone I know has heard about the $54 million bonus – but none of the folks I have asked actually know what the current minimum wage is.

We can’t (shouldn’t) do anything about the ludicrous cross pollination going on in the M&A world by getting excited about the paychecks —- though when publicly traded companies are involved the stock holders who actually pay the bills ought not be left holding the bag (again, another discussion) .  However, we can, and should, take care of business in our own back yard.  Local minimum wage requirements have worked in many high priced areas.

Let’s take the “servant” out of Public Servant.  Let’s take a good look at our conflicting demands and contradictory expectations.   We want good people, talented people, committed people , to agree to take these jobs —- virtuous people, even.  However, I think we count on only those willing to take a vow of poverty at our own peril.

Cindy Vaillancourt


6 Responses to “Fair Pay”

  1. Anonymous said

    Agreed. Look at CE. The only people that would run were those under 35, for whom the job would give them good money.

    Do the CE and Council positions give a pension? If so, how much?

  2. Cindy, I agree too. The discussion about equal pay is very difficult and conflicted. How about paying teachers on merit. How about paying more to attract teachers to certain positions. If we are in need of say speech teachers and can’t get any should we not be willing to pay more to attract a speech teacher? Sadly I believe the unions frown on this kind of treatment. A bad first grade teacher is worth as much as a great first grade teacher.

    In my opinion the best teachers should get the $54 million checks and the poor teachers a basic salary and the worst teachers a pink slip.

    Frank Aquino – Why did you do it? Twice? Calvin Ball, why do you do it and is it worth the minor grief I even give to you? For $54M it probably would be.

  3. cynthia vaillancourt said

    I agree that a good teacher is worth his weight in gold. I can even think of a few who ought to be considered for cloning when the time comes.

    However – I do not think all teachers are underpaid.

    As a capitalist- I believe pay ought to be tied to the market. Different skills have different values. Pretty basic stuff.

    Except when “organized labor” in the form of “unions” become disproportionately influential. (this is why I’ll never be elected to the BOE)

    Pay and the Teachers Union is a HUGE problem in addressing education issues — and in HoCo the Teacher’s Union, and the HCPSS and BOE FEAR of confronting it — are a significant obstacle.

    Not all HoCo teachers are really underpaid – and pay is not the primary reason so many of them leave the profession.

    Hoever – when you look to areas like math and science teachers — or especially talented teachers in any subject —- merit and marketability are not given adequate consideration.

    Accountability is not adequate either – but that is a different conversation.

    CIndy V.

  4. The great teachers should be getting more than awful teachers, but the union mentality for how teachers get paid is not based on merit. The problem though is how is merit determined among teachers? Someone constantly reviewing teacher performance? Students review forms? Standardized tests? The problem is the unions have an adverse reaction anytime someone tries to implement a scheme to hold the performance of teacher’s accountable. Personally, I am a supporter of standardized tests because it is a tangible method of making sure a student at least has some knowlegde of basic core skills that can be used in life, and also shows whether a teacher is instilling that basic core skills with the students. Is it perfect? No, but what method of teaching is?

    Are teachers underpaid? Maybe. But as long as they continue to support a system which prevents holding teachers accountable, it makes it harder for me to sympathize with them when they complain about their pay.

  5. cynthia vaillancourt said

    David Wissing said (re:teachers) “as long as they continue to support a system which prevents holding teachers accountable, it makes it harder for me to sympathize with them when they complain about their pay.”

    First – I would like to encourage folks to “educate” our fellow citizens to be careful to understand the difference between “what teachers think/want” – and what the Howard County Teachers Union thinks/wants.

    Second – If folks would listen more closely – they would understand that the “major” complaint of HoCo teachers is not money – but working conditions, work loads, unattainable expectations.

    Third – from a purely “compensation” standpoint, teachers have exceptionally attractive pay, benefit, pension and job security packages …. compared to the situations of the rest of the American workforce (with similar qualifications and experience).

    and Finally — my favorite “campaign slogan” … We all want to give the best teachers everything we can to thank them for their work with our children …. but…. every one of us has had some teacher who made our lives, or our child’s life, a misery … so when it comes time to “give the teachers a raise”, or otherwise improve their contracts, we are hesitant to be so generous when the bad ones benefit too.

    For what it’s worth – it has been my experience that the teachers know which ones are the bad apples — and given the choice, I believe they would cut them loose in exchange for better conditions.

    It will take some leadership skills, a good plan, and the support of the community and the “good” teachers.

    Cindy Vaillancourt

  6. cynthia vaillancourt said

    Regarding “accountability” – and unions. There is no good reason for teachers not to be required to pass proficiency exams on a regular basis. Union labor or not.

    “Almost” every professional position requires some form of regular review/evaluation. Union or not.

    And frankly, any professional who insists that he should be exempt from periodically proving he has maintained proficiency in his trade makes me not only suspicious — but significantly reduces my respect for him/her.

    CIndy V.

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