Let’s not be diverted from the important issues at hand. That’s the surprising response of officials at the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) to a report released last week by the Civitas Institute that said from 2006 to 2009 total compensation for NCAE executives increased 24 percent, while total compensation for the average teacher in North Carolina increased only 12 percent.
A diversion? Sorry, but I beg to differ. Executive compensation IS an important issue – and I think plenty of NCAE teachers may not be comfortable with executive compensation increasing at a rate twice their own compensation.
An examination of federal tax forms reveals in 2009, the average compensation of the top eight highest-paid NCAE executives was a whopping $176,796. Yes, you read correctly: $176,796. Those packages range from $150,000 for president to $229,000 for executive director. Compensation includes both salary and benefits such as health insurance and retirement.
What’s especially interesting is the size of the benefit packages. Packages range from $7,227 to $94,120.
Obviously total compensation for top executives will be higher than average teacher compensation packages. I wonder, however, if teachers are aware that NCAE executive benefit packages average more than $52,000 and comprise on average about 29 percent of total compensation. Meanwhile, the average benefits package for teachers is $7,652 and comprises about 14 percent of total compensation.
Is the generous compensation a problem? Not according to Thomas Herbert, NCAE Business Affairs manager. When asked by one local TV station to comment on the report, Herbert agreed with Civitas figures but dismissed the dramatic compensation increases by saying that NCAE salaries haven’t really increased much at all. Instead, Herbert claimed the real issue is not the increase in total compensation, but what drives those increases.
I differ with Herbert on both issues. First, the average salary increase for NCAE executives between 2006 and 2009 was 20 percent (the same figure for teachers was 10 percent). Twenty percent is five percent a year over four years. A 20 percent increase is hardly a negligible number, especially given it is twice the rate of increase teachers received.
Second, Herbert says the compensation numbers are higher because they represent additional pension benefits that had to be paid because of the decline in the stock market. True, but this merely underscores the high costs of a gold-plated retirement program for executives.
NCAE officials also quibbled with the number of employees Civitas reported as working at NCAE (135). Rodney Ellis, NCAE vice president said, “NCAE currently employs only about 76 people. NCAE has never employed 135 people.” The Civitas figure, however, comes directly from page one of the 2009 tax form completed by NCAE officials. If NCAE staff is smaller, it raises another interesting issue. If for example NCAE had a staff of 80, average NCAE salary and compensation would increase to $99,089. Salary and compensation for the average Wake County teacher is $60,000. This fall, membership dues for NCAE will increase from $370 to $415 annually. In 2009, NCAE collected $8.8 million in membership dues. A portion of that amount ($178 per member) is set aside as dues for the National Education Association (NEA) which all NCAE members are required to join. In this economy, I doubt any teachers are welcoming the 12 percent increase in dues. I wonder if any teachers are asking what the increase is going towards.
Obviously political influence is one goal toward which member dues are attached. That’s a major objective for NCAE and its parent organization NEA. It seems as of late NCAE is trying to convey the notion that its members span the political spectrum. A number of Republicans were even at the podium during last week’s rally. If those efforts at political diversity are genuine, I applaud NCAE.
A 2005 survey of NEA member’s political attitudes found “NEA members are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.” That said you have to wonder why NEA and NCAE giving to political candidates is so one-sided. In 2010, 99 percent of NCAE campaign contributions went to Democrats.
NCAE says executive compensation diverts attention away from the real problems facing North Carolina schools. One must wonder, however, if teachers think NCAE executives have earned their hefty salary and compensation increases while teachers wrestle with budget reductions, a third year of no salary increase, and union leaders ignoring their political views.
Perhaps it’s time to ask them.
Bob Luebke is a senior policy analyst at the Civitas Institute in Raleigh (nccivitas.org)
This op-ed originally appeared in Wake Weekly and the Lincoln Tribune the week of May 16-20, 2011.