Thursday, August 17, 2006

Boards should be educated in self-restraint over perks

The following article appeared in the Northwest Herald. Mr. Lyons column speaks for itself, bravo Mr. Lyons.

Kevin Lyons
Boards should be educated in self-restraint over perks

[published on Thu, Aug 17, 2006]
One of the most interesting stories to me in Wednesday's Northwest Herald was Tom Musick's piece about Huntley School District 158's Human Resources Committee, which is taking a look at administrative perks.

They're taking a look into lots of things over there, including a forensic audit, payroll mismanagement, and who hid the chalk, but I'm glad that they also are taking a look at the administrative perks.

Administrators' salaries and benefits are things taxpayers do and should care about. They often are incorrectly blamed for all the ills in education funding because they're easy targets.

The committee recommended cutting vacation days from 20 to 15 for new administrative hires. That's a start. They already get 14 paid holidays and 14 sick days on top of the vacation days.

It took me about 10 years in the private sector to get 20 vacation days. I don't know how many sick days I get, because, knock on wood, it hasn't been an issue. I know from my pay stubs that I have several hundred hours of accumulated sick time that I can enjoy in the afterlife because, unlike a school administrator and like most of the rest of the world, I can't take them with me.

New Superintendent John Burkey didn't squawk too loud and likely is shrewd enough to pick his battles, but he did caution the committee not to cut such perks too deeply so that the district can remain competitive when recruiting new administrators.

"Whether it's right or whether it's wrong, we will be on the low end with 15 days," Burkey said.

Burkey's assessment is on the money. Some districts fork over 25 days with no questions asked.

How many regular people get offered 25 vacation days during a job interview?

You have the right to know what's going on with the tax dollars you've already forked over, and especially when school officials ask you to dig deeper. You have the right to expect the school board members you've elected to be good stewards of your tax dollars and not fret over whether some mid-level school administrator might not take up any desk space if he can't take that cruise in the South Pacific in year one on your dime.

In the private sector, 20 days of vacation isn't an unreasonable offer for a well-experienced high-level manager, as a negotiating point. But in District 158, it's a standing offer to any kid who just walked out of grad school.

So while I'm glad that members of this committee are examining this issue, don't you wonder why school board members across Illinois have allowed this environment where you have to give away the store to entice people to take well-paying jobs that already come with 14 or more paid holidays?

There is no alternative answer other than that if school board members weren't offering lavish job perks across the state, such perks wouldn't make this a competitive issue when looking for new candidates. So knock it off. Use a little self-restraint.

– Kevin Lyons is the news editor for the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at (815) 459-4122 or via e-mail at

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