February 25, 2011

My colleague, Bob Costrell, has an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal that tells you the one number you need to know to understand the dispute over collective bargaining and public employee compensation in Wisconsin.  It is 74.2.  That is how many cents the public pays Milwaukee Public School (MPS) employees for retirement and health benefits  for each dollar of salary.  The comparable figure for private sector employees is 24.3.

Bob explains exactly how benefits in Milwaukee could cost nearly as much as salary.  In short, it has to do with the fact that the public pays the employee as well as the employer contributions to the pension.  Teachers actually were given a second, additional pension by MPS.  And the public pays for the entire cost of a gold-plated health plan for current and retired employees.  All of this was obtained in collective bargaining negotiations.

Just the People You Want Managing Schools

November 6, 2008

Five school districts in Wisconsin have sued their investment advisors after losing $1.5 million on a $2 million investment in collateralized debt obligations.  That’s a 75% loss.  According to the lawsuit, the investment was “complex, convoluted, and opaque, and as Stifel and RBC then well knew, beyond the investment knowledge or experience of the School Districts . . . , their school board members, and their administrators.” 

Complex?  Convoluted?  Opaque? That sounds like just the thing that school officials should put the public’s money in.

But don’t worry.  It’s not their fault that they did something foolish.  It was the fault of the people who sold it to them and they are asking the courts to return the money.  And if that doesn’t work, they’ll just take it from you in future taxes.

I wonder if school officials can do the same if they select foolish educational policies.  If that faddish whole language reading curriculum didn’t work can they sue the people who sold it to them to get their money back?

This all reminds me of a great Shel Silverstein poem:


My dad gave me one dollar bill

‘Cause I’m his smartest son,

And I swapped it for two shiny quarters

‘Cause two is more than one!

And then I took the quarters

And traded them to Lou

For three dimes—I guess he don’t know

That three is more than two!

Just then, along came old blind Bates

And just ‘cause he can’t see

He gave me four nickels for my three dimes,

And four is more than three!

And I took the nickels to Hiram Coombs

Down at the seed-feed store,

And the fool gave me five pennies for them,

And five is more than four!

And then I went and showed my dad,

And he got red in the cheeks

And closed his eyes and shook his head—

Too proud of me to speak!

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