Dec 142010

While heading out for a morning mail run I tuned in to KGO Radio to see what Ronn Owens was talking about. Turns out Ronn is on vacation, and Brian Copeland was sitting in for him. Brian had the Deputy Director for Planning for the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, Tilly Chang.

Apparently, traffic in downtown San Francisco moves at only 5 to 10 miles per hour. While this is clearly a problem, the proposed solutions discussed today were simply ridiculous. Continue reading »

Sep 132008

Not surprisingly, the Morgan Hill Police Department wants more money. And they’ve decided the best way to get it is to pass a 2% tax “on the use of gas, electric, water, sewer, garbage, telecommunications and video/CATV services.”  According to the full color (read: expensive) flier I (and probably you) received in my mailbox today if Measure G does not pass “the City will not likely be in a position to add new positions such as additional police officers,”which elicited a resounding “good” from me, but may not have from you.  So let’s review-

  • In 2004 the people of Morgan hill spent roughly $10,000,000 on a new police station.
  • In June 2008 Morgan Hill Police Chief Bruce Cumming reported that “[t]he department had a productive year, [in 2007]. Among the accomplishments, Cumming told council members, is the creation of a regional SWAT team with the Gilroy Police Department and the implementation of the anti-gang GREAT program in Morgan Hill schools.”
  • At the same time Chief Cumming announced that “[s]ome of the goals for the new year, which begins July 1, include reinstating the department’s K-9 program with funding from community donations and implementing a city-wide telephone notification system.  Cumming also hopes to increase the department’s 36 sworn officers with seven more sworn officers and two more multi-service officers.”
  • In July 2008, the Morgan Hill Police Department added five new officers.
  • In August 2008, the department “hired” Pax, an 18 month old German Shepherd, thus successfully “reinstating the department’s K-9 program.”

So why, exactly do the people of Morgan Hill need to supply the police with another $1,800,000?  They seem to be doing just fine without it and have already met the majority of their goals for 2008 in just a few months!

Again, returning to the flier, here’s the section on responsibility-

Q) What controls are there that Measure G funds will be spent responsibly?

A) The UUT Ordinance includes extraordinary accountability measures.  Every two years, the City Council is required to make findings that the tax is necessary for the City’s financial health or the tax expires.  It requires two-thirds vote (i.e. four of five Council members) to continue the tax.

Excuse me?  You call this “extraordinary accountability measures”? All this means is that every two years the council needs to rubber stamp the continuation of the tax.  They’ll ask themselves the question: “do we need this money?” For government, the answer to that question is always yes.  Nothing in this measure even requires that the money be spent on the police department!  It just goes in to the general fund to be used for whatever purpose the (then current) council deems appropriate.  And it’s not exactly difficult to make the case that the police don’t need the money…

Q) Why doesn’t the City reduce services in other areas such as recreation to enhance other City services such as police?A) Public Safety is currently the City Council’s highest priority as indicated by the fact the City spends 83% of all discretionary dollars on police and fire.  Over the past several years, the City has cut back on less critical service levels and eliminated positions from Park Maintenance, Human Resources and other administrative functions.

{emphasis added}

Again, that’s from the flier. Do not be fooled, this is not a “police funding” tax, or even a “public safety” tax.  It’s simply another way for the City Council to sugar coat their latest money grab.


Aug 092008

While eating lunch downtown the other day I was partaking in one of my favorite activities: eavesdropping. It’s amazing what you can learn by listening to the other conversations around you in a public place. I feel it’s also a great way to keep an ear on what topics my neighbors are actually interested in.

With school starting again later this month it was no surprise that one of the topics of conversation was the traditional moaning and gnashing of teeth over “how poorly” our teachers are paid.  I’ve long felt the underpaid teacher to be a mythical creature whose existence is only accepted due to the excellent propaganda machine of the NEA and teachers’ unions, but I thought maybe it was time I investigated myself.  Which I now have…

The Disclaimers-

  • This article is focused on teachers in government schools, not private schools.
  • Although all numbers (unless stated otherwise) deal with teachers in the Morgan Hill Unified School District, a quick spot check of several other California counties showed similar results across the board.
  • Throughout this article I refer to teachers as women rather than men.  I do this not because I’m a sexist pig, but because every school I’ve visited over the last 30 years has had a significant majority of the teaching staff comprised of women.
  • Unfortunately I had to return to 1999-2000 to get numbers for comparison.  However, teacher salaries have increased at a rate slightly higher than inflation since then, so the numbers should still hold.  If anyone knows where I can get documented salary stats for a more recent year I’ll be more than happy to revisit this topic.

The Basics-

  • Lowest Teacher Salary Offered1 – $33,360
  • Highest Teacher Salary Offered1 – $60,499
  • Average Teacher Salary Paid1 – $50,757
  • Median Income (Single Female)2 – $45,354
  • Mean Income (Single Female)2 -$54,012
  • Median Household Income2 – $81,958
  • Mean Household Income2 – $101,868
  • Female Population Making <$50,000/year2 – 58%

Based on these numbers it appears that the average school teacher tends to fall right in line with the average non-teacher in Morgan Hill.  Is this really so bad?  But that’s only the start of the story.

Apples To Apples-

Teachers had 184 work days in 1999-20001, while the average worker had 250 (5 days/week, 50 weeks/year), which means teachers worked 26% less than the average worker.  So it seems only fair to add another 26% to the average teacher salary when making comparisons, does it not?  This brings the average teacher salary in Morgan Hill to $63,954.  This is higher than 63% of the single females in Morgan Hill earned that year2.  Not bad at all.  And that’s still not the end of the story.

Retirement Benefits-

The thing that most people tend to forget about teacher compensation (in government schools) is the excellent retirement benefit.  How many private sector jobs even have a retirement fund anymore?  I know I’ve never had one.  I’m not talking about a 401k, IRA, or similar self-funded retirement plan.  I’m talking about a full pension.  Teacher pensions are handled by CalSTRS (California State Teachers’ Retirement System) which brags that it is the “Largest U.S. teachers’ retirement fund” and the “Second largest U.S. public pension fund”3 Teachers can retire as early as age 50 with at least 30 years of service credit, or at age 55 with at least five years of service credit.

The methods for calculating retirement benefits are far too complicated to repeat here, but can be seen at the CalSTRS website. Instead, let’s take a current average teacher and see what her lifetime retirement benefits will be by using the handy calculator provided by CalSTRS4.  Our average teacher above had been teaching for 17 years1, so we’ll use her as an example.

Assuming she started teaching at 21 she would have been born in 1957, and thus would be of minimum retirement age in 2012 at age 51 with 30 years of service, 1 year of Other Service Credit, 14 unused sick days, 184 contract base service days, 2 Year Service Credit Incentive, a final salary of $79,907 (the current highest salary offered in Morgan Hill), and no beneficiary.  Her estimated unmodified monthly benefit will be $3524.01, making an annual salary of $42,288 or, roughly, 53% of her final salary. Not to mention that at 51 she’s still quite able to work and this won’t effect her pension at all as long as she doesn’t work for a California government school.

Compare this to the standard Social Security benefit for the same woman working in the  private sector – $1,357/month or $16,284/year (according to the Social Security Administration6).  And in the private sector she wouldn’t be able to start collecting until age 62, more than a decade later.

Given a standard life expectancy our teacher should live to be 835, so will be collecting her pension for 32 years. That’s two years longer than she actually worked as a teacher.  Therefore it seems reasonable to add her annual pension to her annual average salary (adjusted for year-round employment) and compare that to the median salary in Morgan Hill with their Social Security benefit added on.  Doing so gives us the following numbers-

  • Average Teacher Salary Paid – $106,242
  • Median Income (Single Female) – $61,638

That tells us that the average government school teacher is earning 42% more than the average woman in Morgan Hill.  Do you still think they’re “woefully underpaid”?  Well, a 2007 report from the Manhattan Institute For Policy Research7 (based on data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in its annual National Compensation Survey) agrees with me-

  • The average public school teacher was paid 36% more per hour than the average non-sales white-collar worker and 11% more than the average professional specialty and technical worker.
  • Full-time public school teachers work on average 36.5 hours per week during weeks that they are working. By comparison, white-collar workers (excluding sales) work 39.4 hours, and professional specialty and technical workers work 39.0 hours per week. Private school teachers work 38.3 hours per week.
  • Compared with public school teachers, editors and reporters earn 24% less; architects, 11% less; psychologists, 9% less; chemists, 5% less; mechanical engineers, 6% less; and economists, 1% less.
  • Compared with public school teachers, airplane pilots earn 186% more; physicians, 80% more; lawyers, 49% more; nuclear engineers, 17% more; actuaries, 9% more; and physicists, 3% more.
  • Public school teachers are paid 61% more per hour than private school teachers, on average nationwide.
  • We find no evidence that average teacher pay relative to that of other white-collar or professional specialty workers is related to high school graduation rates in the metropolitan area.

Data Sources-

Aug 032008

It was just last month that Morgan Hill City Council members voted unanimously July 2 to create a ballot measure that would put a 2% utility tax, with a low-income exception, on the November ballot in order to fund nine more positions in the Morgan Hill Police Department.

Then, just last week, I read in the Morgan Hill Times that the department just added five new officers, bringing the total number of cops in Morgan hill to 38 or (roughly) one per thousand residents.  So, if we’ve got the funds already, why do we need to pay a higher utility tax?  Particularly one that is simply going directly into the general fund and is not earmarked directly for the police budget?  Or has the department simply jumped the gun and hired the officers even before the vote?  Shades of “Wag The Dog”, anyone?

Apr 162008

Since it’s National Library Week I invited some fellow bloggers to comment on my recent anti-public library funding post.  So far, only one has taken me up on the opportunity, but he did help point out a major weakness in my original post.  If you’re looking for some hard numbers on the Santa Clara County Library System you can check out his post – National Library Week – Archaic or Fresh.

It’s an excellent response to my original argument except for one thing: the numbers I was citing in my original post actually covered all seven public library systems located in Santa Clara County: Los Gatos Public Library, Mountain View Library, Palo Alto City Library, San Jose Public Library, Santa Clara City Library, Santa Clara County Library and the Sunnyvale Public Library.  Unfortunately, I did not make that clear.

The post concludes with the following-

The primary library I have access to is at a University, and most of their focus is on the acquisition of scholarly works, instead of items of popular fiction.

In these times of internet knowledge, libraries often seem like a thing of the past but I think they have done an admirable job of evolving over the years with the technology to try to keep providing some measure of public service. Once teachers and students realize the differences between an expert source and a peer-created resource such as Wikipedia, I think more emphasis will be placed on libraries once again.

Besides, if we didn’t have libraries, how could we lose our library cards?

With an extra $195 in my pocket (the amount the government takes from me to fund the libraries here) I could easily buy all of the fiction books I wanted.  Even more beneficial to me would be to voluntarily pool that money with other interested fiction readers to purchase a pool of fiction works and share them among ourselves.  Essentially creating our own private library that serves our needs directly without wasting funds and energy on services we aren’t interested in.  Most importantly, everyone involved would have a choice and force would not be used to take from one person in order to give to another.

As for his second point (in the quote above), I couldn’t agree more.  I’m constantly fighting against Wikipedia as a “source” document and always seeking primary sources whenever possible.  Libraries are excellent for this very purpose.  The problem with the argument in this case is that I was not the one arguing that the purpose of libraries in the modern world was to provide internet access.  That was the President of the Friends of the Library.  I think that the primary purpose of a library should be to provide information that cannot be easily, or affordably, found elsewhere – such as nonfiction works and periodicals.

Again, I’m a big supporter of libraries and would gladly donate money to support those that serve my community well.  However, I don’t have the option of doing so because my money is being stolen away from me by the government before I can decide how to spend it.

So, what do you think?  Should libraries continue to be funded through force?  Would you help financially support a library if one wasn’t provided for you by the government?