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Mike Groene
Mike Groene is chairman of the Western Nebraska Taxpayers Association. He was a sponsor of Initiative 423, a proposed spending lid that was turned down by voters in 2006. (LJS File) ERIC GREGORY

Gov. Dave Heineman needs to clarify why Nebraska's $234 million share of Obama's education stimulus should be used for pay raises for Nebraska State Education Association members.

Does he know, for example, that out here in North Platte the school district's top base pay is $65,705, which does not include retirement and health benefits or extracurricular pay?

Sixty-nine full-time certified North Platte Public Schools teachers (21 percent) out of 334 make more than $60,000. There are 17 administrative positions paying more than $87,000, half of which top $100,000. The superintendent leads the class at $162,695. NPPS salaries are not above normal; their pay scale fits in the middle of the array of eight like-sized districts that our school board is forced to use in negotiations with the NSEA.

While the governor's criticism of administrators pay has merit, might it be more productive of him to instead assist local school boards by eliminating excessive state government mandates that lead to growth in administrative staff?

It must be remembered that a school administrator's job is not protected by tenure. They are held responsible for the results of employees that they cannot terminate nor reward with merit pay. Administrators work a full year, versus a teaching staff's obligation of 187 days with only 169 days with student contact.

In a letter in our local paper, state NSEA President Jess Wolf agonized over low beginning teacher pay. He claims $28,000 in Nebraska; NPPS's was $31,140 last year.

Wolf needs to explain why whenever local school boards do try to concentrate pay increases at the lower end of the pay scale, it is his organization that fights to prevent their efforts. Once I asked a school administrator why the taxpaying public was unable to raise the lower end of the pay scale without raising the top end. The frustrated reply was: "Do you not know that the NSEA ate their young?"

NSEA members have a defined benefit package that is guaranteed by Nebraska taxpayers. With 30 years of employment and a minimum age of 55, a school employee can collect retirement pay averaging 60 percent of the top three years' earnings, plus cost-of-living increases that are awarded annually.

Unlike the defined benefit retirees of North Platte's largest employer, the Union Pacific railroad, public school employees also can collect Social Security benefits when they reach 62.

Heineman needs to explain to Nebraska's citizens (who have lost much of their retirement savings) why he supported the Legislature's $87.5 million state taxpayer bailout of the public school retirement fund this past legislative session.

Why wasn't the one-time federal stimulus money used for this one-time bailout? Instead of buying NSEA votes with pay raises in the heart of a recession, would it not have been better to use the $87.5 million to save the jobs of existing state employees? Or better yet, given Nebraska taxpayers a tax cut?

According to the Web site TeachersPortal.com, Nebraska ranks 42nd in average teachers pay, but when cost of living factors and other benefits of living in Nebraska are taken into consideration, their "salary comfort index" ranks Nebraska 17th nationally. Considering that areas with the worst student success rates (New York ,California, District of Columbia) also have the highest average teachers pay, it's baffling how the NSEA continues to make claims that higher unmerited teacher salaries will lead to better schools and higher student achievement. Facts do not support their claims.

Mike Groene is chairman of the Western Nebraska Taxpayers Association. He was a sponsor of Initiative 423, a proposed spending lid that was turned down by voters in 2006.

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