Unsustainable Public Employee Salaries: It’s Not Just Teachers Anymore

Custodians, Nurses and Federal Employees Are Overpaid Too.

By Bill Zettler

In the past we have covered in great detail the excess salaries paid to teachers, administrators and university employees. We have documented $400,000/yr superintendents, $390,000/yr pensions and $196,000/yr art teachers. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

School Custodians: Up To 100% More Than Their Private Sector Peers.

Looking more closely at non-teaching jobs we have found the same excess in salary and benefits that we found in teaching positions. For example at District 211 in Roselle, Illinois we found 54 of 96 custodians make more than $50,000/yr. Compare this with to BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) data that shows the 90th percentile for custodians of $37,580 and a mean salary of $26,510. This is a case where 50% of one group of public employees is earning 100% more than their peers in the private sector.

All 96 exceeded the mean salary meaning 100% of custodial employees at District 211 exceeded the average for their job description. Not one was at or below average. So the school taxes private sector custodians making the average $26,000 salary to pay the salary of the school custodian making in excess of $50,000.

For the five custodial foremen at District 211 the salaries were $75,704 compared with BLS data showing custodial supervisors earning a mean salary $46,450 of and a 90th percentile of $54,690. That means District 211 supervisory custodians are making 63% more than their peers in the private sector.

County and School Nurses: Up To 300% More Than Their Private Sector Peers.

Lake County, IL has a nurse practitioner who made $136,000 last year and two others who made more than $100,000. Illinois schools have another 21 nurses making over $100,000 with a top salary of $156,000 for 9 months work. Those numbers far exceed the Chicago MSA average of $67,300. On the basis of monthly salary the $156,000 school nurse exceeds the average nurse’s salary by 308%.

Compare those salaries with the average salary of a family doctor in the Chicago area of $143,000. And to make his $143,000 he had to work a long 12 months not a brief 9 months.

For the school nurse making $156,000 we have to add another $45,000 from state taxpayers for her pension and $15,000 for family insurance coverage provided by her school. That puts her at over $200,000 in compensation or $22,000 per month. That makes her monthly compensation higher than the average Chicago-area General Surgeon.

It should be noted that she has averaged 10% salary increases each year since 2001 going from $76,815 to $156,100 without any change in job description. How does that compare to your salary increases since 2001?

Federal Employee Compensation: 100% More Than Private Sector:

The BEA (Bureau of Economic Analysis) collects data comparing wages and benefits across numerous categories of employees both public and private. Analysis of this data from 2000 to 2008 shows that the gap between public and private total compensation continues to grow in favor of the public worker. As of 2008, federal workers total compensation is exactly double private sector compensation $120,000 to $60,000 per year. Since 2000 private sector compensation has increased by 3.4% per year while federal compensation has increased by 5.8% per year. As you can readily see in the following chart the compensation gap has doubled since 2000 from $30,000 to $60,000 per year.
















Thus while the private sector worker’s income increases at a fraction of federal workers, their tax burden increases to pay for the higher salaries and benefits of the federal workers.

Compensation Disparity Public Vs Private Is Unsustainable and Unfair.
The three examples we discuss here are just a small subset of the problem at every level of government, in every state. The government monster continues to grow unabated at the expense of every private sector worker, employed and unemployed.

More public employees mean more salaries, more benefits and more pensions that need to be paid for by the lower paid private sector citizens. Employee growth in the private sector from 2000 to 2008 was 3.6% while state and local employment grew by 6.9%. According to the BLS, average hourly benefits for the public sector is $13.38/hr 67% higher, on average, than the private sector’s $7.98/hr. This shows that public employees have better fringe benefits and pensions, often retiring in their 50’s as opposed to the average private worker retiring at age 63.

An organization called “The Free Enterprise Nation” has consolidated massive amounts of public sector excesses for every level of federal and state government. Check out their “Oh My” list for the worst of the worst. It is a real eye-opener.


Perhaps Franklin Roosevelt said it best:

“Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relations and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government. The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.”


Bureau of Economic Analysis

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Freedom Of Information Act Requests:

Lake County, IL

Consolidated School District 211, Roselle, IL


Bill Zettler is a free-lance writer and consultant specializing in public sector compensation. He can be contacted at this email address. Click here to read more by Mr. Zettler.