How many news stories can we have about the salaries of Michelle Rhee’s new DCPS leadership team? These sorts of stories are catnip to local media, but if you scratch beneath the surface, the implications are troubling. Do the Examiner and other critics think D.C.’s kids aren’t worth this level of investment? Exactly how much money do they think is an appropriate amount to invest? Particularly troubling are these reported remarks from D.C. Councilmember Phil Mendelson:
“This is not the private sector,” Mendelson said in a statement through a spokesman. “There does not seem to be any sense of context or proportion between the agencies and the positions.”
Mendelson’s essentially saying public education ought to be charity work. That’s a slap in the face to all the committed educators–at all levels–in the District. And this is not just an issue of the people at the top. Does Mendelson, or others who share his views, ever consider that it might be easier to get high-quality talent throughout the system if folks knew that stellar results had the potential to put them on a path to earnings on par with lawyers, elected officials, and other highly-compensated professionals? (And Rhee’s team still isn’t earning anywhere near what the city’s top lawyers do: We’re seeing a hullabaloo about folks who are earning less than associates at many D.C. law firms! And sure, there’s a broader economic equity issue in that comparison, but that’s a conversation for another place, plus improving the education DCPS kids get is a part of addressing that equity question.)
I have to wonder if the whole conversation really reflects a fatalism about the ability of D.C.’s students to succeed. If you think DCPS is doomed to be just a holding pen that keeps off the streets as long as possible, then you’re not going to care much about the quality of the folks involved. But if you think DCPS schools can become institutions that make a real positive impact in kids lives, then we should be judging the salaries of Rhee and her team in terms of productivity. In five years, will we have produced more graduates per administrative salary dollar than we did in the past five? Similarly with achievement and operational efficiency. If it turns out in three or five years that we’re not seeing bang for the buck, then we have a problem. In the meantime, can we please put this topic to bed?
–Guestblogger (and D.C. taxpayer) Sara Mead