To hear Blaine County School District administrators tell it, their March 13 $3 million supplemental levy request is about the kids. The kids need this and the kids need that.
What school officials won’t tell interested voters: The district offers overly lavish benefits to school administrators, an arrangement that steals money from classrooms.
Here’s the uncomfortable truth: Blaine county school administrators have the most generous government retirement plan in the state of Idaho. How generous? School officials don't contribute a single penny to their retirement. Taxpayers, on the other hand, make a contribution of 27 percent of every school administrator's paycheck toward the administrator’s golden years.
Think about that: An employee in any private company might, if they’re lucky, get a six percent match from their employer toward a retirement program. The key word in that last sentence is “match.” But, in the Blaine County School District, employees aren’t required to contribute anything. Zero. Zilch. Nada. That’s highly unusual. Some might call it extraordinary. Most Idaho state and local government employees are required to contribute to their pensions. In the case of the Blaine County School District, the school board signed a pair of contracts that require taxpayers to pay all—employer and employee—retirement benefit costs.
Furthermore, administrators (not teachers, mind you), get the added perk of a taxpayer-funded nine percent contribution to a second retirement plan, which brings their total retirement benefit to 27 percent of payroll. That is breathtaking. It’s more breathtaking when one knows that school administrators, according to Idaho law, aren’t even supposed to bargain for benefits the way teachers do. And yet they have.
But there’s more: In the most recent contract, the Blaine County school board gave its administrators—and teachers—free health, vision, and dental insurance. Their monthly premiums are completely covered by taxpayers. Thankfully, employees are at least required to cover a tiny portion of their doctor’s visits.
In all, according to district officials, these retirement and health insurance benefits cost almost $7 million annually. That’s twice the amount being sought in the March 13 levy election. Thus, another inconvenient truth: If the school district simply brought the mentioned benefits package into line with the norm, there would likely be no need for taxpayers to fund the proposed supplemental levy.
School officials say the levy is needed to benefit students. As is typical, the district claims that the funding is needed to help close student achievement gaps, reduce class sizes, and keep arts, music, and sports programs going. However, the truth is clear: The levy is not about students. Rather, they levy is about maintaining the status quo for the adults who have negotiated lavish contracts unbeknownst to the taxpayers who foot the bill.
Most everyone agrees great teachers and other education professionals should be well compensated. There is no question that the Blaine County School District has great people working for it, and they deserve fair compensation. But the school board must come up with an employee compensation plan that is both good for the employees of the district and affordable for the taxpayers whose livelihoods make that compensation possible. When the compensation of the people paying the bills is disproportionate to the people receiving the benefit, as is the case here, something is terribly awry.
Voters of the Blaine County School District would be wise to reject this school levy increase and insist the school board reconsider the extraordinarily generous retirement benefits for administrators, and the insurance benefits for administrators and teachers. If voters reject the levy they will send a message to the district: Negotiate an employee benefits plan that rewards employees for their great work, a plan that district taxpayers can actually afford.
Wayne Hoffman is the president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a think tank in Boise. Email him at [email protected].