With information provided by the La Crosse School District, I have found some interesting facts about the high cost of salary and benefits for employees of the district.
I conducted an exhaustive study of just the support staff, and without covering the entire force of 337 people, I found the secretaries to be rather representative of the whole group.
Using the support staff and the partial group of secretaries helps explain why taxes for the district are so high. The following refers only to the support staff and does not cover teachers or administration costs, which may be higher.
I have questioned the benefit package provided by taxpayers for public employees for some time. After some digging I found that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides a basis for comparison. The bureau has found benefit packages provided are nearly (but not over) 30% of total payroll costs. That is obviously a huge cost for an employer to cover in his costs of manufacture. In the Midwest the average wage is about $19.08 per hour and benefits are about $8.35 or 30.44% of the total.
Many school employees have complained about the total compensation limitations saying the increase in benefit costs has limited them to low salaries. Perhaps we should look at this a bit closer. This has nothing to do with whether you like secretaries-- only fairness to the taxpayer.
Average salary and benefits for a secretary in the La Crosse school district is more than $37,000 salary plus more than $22,100 in benefits. Most people would calculate that to be a 59.7 percent, but following Bureau of Labor Statistics methods, these benefit packages total 37.5 percent, 7.5 percent more than the average worker. And that extra 7.5 percent is costing local taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. It should be noted that higher salaries reduce that percentage, so compared to the average household income, it is an even greater amount.
Eighteen of the 53 secretaries cited in this report have salaries that exceed $40,000, and 32 of the 53 secretaries have a benefit package that exceeds $25,000.
The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance reports the adjusted gross income per household for La Crosse in 2010 was $39,023. These compensation plans for secretaries, or other support personnel, do not seem to be causing them to run looking for other jobs.
In fact, if an ad were run for an opening as a secretary, I suspect the line would extend around most classrooms.
As of July 2011, staff members are paying 12.6% of the premium for a very complete and expensive health plan; and 5.8% of salary to the Wisconsin Retirement System.
Currently, the administration is, thanks to Gov. Walker’s actions, advertising for a more competitive health plan that may not use WEAC, which was union demanded and required in the past.
Before you say they are really getting hit with those costs, let’s look at the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) information that notes the average worker pays $4,129 annually for family coverage that has higher deductibles and less complete coverage.
Now that the employees have “skins in the game,” I would imagine they will be interested in having reasonable coverage and competitive rates.
With regard to retirement or saving plans outside government, the employer may contribute based on company profits, but in lean years as we have had, there may be no employer input, therefore the employee is totally responsible for any retirement savings. Some who may be reading this have been critical of businesses being profitable, and therefore are hurting the employee, not only for the job but the benefit package as well.
It’s time to get some real comparisons to private industry, as they are the ones who are providing these golden plans for our government services.
Dave Drewes is president of the Citizens for Responsible Government in La
Crosse County 1/26/2012