No Recession in Illinois Public Schools – $100,000 Salaries Up 17% in 2008

Is this the best use of taxdollars? 


By Bill Zettler


While the rest of us struggle to make ends meet and put off our retirement plans, Illinois school employees continue their unabated raid on public funds. In 2008 fiscal year 11,254 public school employees had salaries greater than $100,000/yr compared to “only” 9,591 in 2007. And as we know, the salaries are just the starting point.


If we include all the other goodies taxpayers pay for, including pensions, retirement health insurance and employee insurance, public school employees total compensation is actually about 30% more than their salary. This means that over 40,000 public school employees, or about 25%, have a total compensation of over $100,000/yr.


And even that exalted number does not include the value of tenure, a 9 month work year and other items which if assigned a reasonable value would easily put over 50% of public school employees over the $100,000 compensation mark (see here for more detail). So the teacher union's contention that teachers are under paid is patently false when all compensation is included.


As you can see from the attached spreadsheet, it is not only Drivers Ed, Art and English teachers we should be talking about. There are many subjects being taught by very highly compensated public employees that could be easily outsourced to the private sector for much less.


Another way to look at this issue is how much could these public employees make in the private sector with their education and experience. For example how much do people with BA degrees in art make? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the Chicago area the salaries range from $24,000 for Floral Designers to $58,000 for Painters, Sculptors and Commercial Designers working 12 months a year.


So why do taxpayers have to pay 138 teachers between $143,000 and $196,000 in total compensation for those same skills when they are used in the public schools 9 months a year? And on top of that taxpayers also have to guarantee the teachers their jobs (tenure) and pensions when neither of those is guaranteed in the private sector.


You can apply the same argument to the other Subjects from the list – music, dance, phys ed. How about Latin and Hebrew teachers? Where exactly could they work in the private sector and make $127,000 plus tenure plus pension? To my knowledge neither priests nor rabbis make nearly that much though I guess you could argue they have tenure.


If you look at the hourly rate calculation you can see they compare favorably to the billing rate for professional services such as lawyers except a lawyers hourly rate would include overhead such as cars, phones, computers, office space and secretaries. Which means what he takes home is a fraction of the hourly rate as opposed to the teachers taking all of it home. And of course no one guarantees a lawyer's job or pension. So why don't we hire a lawyer to teach Drivers Ed and save the taxpayers some money? Or better yet a lawyer to teach Latin, pro bono.


As for the “what about summer school” argument used by teachers, less than 10% of teachers teach summer school each year so that is a minor factor in Rate per day calculation. Also offsetting summer school is using the 181 day contract year instead of 160 days which is much more realistic. This is because the usual teacher contract calls for teachers to get in excess of 20 days off of the 181 day contract via sick days (used or saved for retirement), personal days off, religious days off, funeral days off etc. If you are paying a lawyer you don't pay him if he is sick or at church or at a funeral.


The other argument frequently made by teachers is the need to pay more otherwise you will not be able to hire new teachers. I have 3 examples that belie that argument:

  1. Substitute teachers are available for about $150/day. Obviously then there are teachers willing to work for $150/day. Why not hire them to replace the $1,400/day art teacher?
  2. Other Illinois districts outside of the Chicago area pay much less yet seem to be able to fill their positions with no problem. For example Cairo Dist. 1 has a drivers Ed teacher with 19 years experience working for a salary of $41,000 and an Art teacher with 28 years experience working for $52,000. Even allowing for a substantial cost-of-living adjustment these public employee positions are filled for a fraction of the cost paid in the Chicago suburbs.
  3. The Catholic Dioceses of Chicago and Joliet pay a maximum of $54,000 for MA plus 30 hrs and seem to have no trouble finding teachers.

Most importantly we know from the ISBE (Illinois State Board of Education) that in 2007 there were at least 18,000 more newly certified teachers in Illinois than there were available teaching jobs. Over the last 5 years that total is about 75,000 unemployed teachers. What other profession has a 30% unemployment rate along with ever increasing $100,000 salaries?


So the argument that if you don't pay six-figure salaries you will not be able to hire teachers does not seem to be true. It is only collusion between politicians and the teachers union that makes taxpayers liable for the outlandish compensation plans seen in the Chicago area.


The question is this: should taxpayers be required to pay more for a given service provided by a public sector source when that same service could be purchased for much less from a private sector source? Since taxes are exacted from the citizenry for the common good, what common good is served by over paying for public services?



Bill Zettler is the owner of a computer-consulting firm in Illinois and a contributor to Click here to read more by Mr. Zettler.