Columbus Dispatch Defends the Fat Cats

By Mississippi Center for Public Policy
August 9, 2021

Attacking our recently published Fat Cat Report, the Columbus Dispatch invoked Babe Ruth. Curiously, they cite the fact that a legendary baseball star was once paid a lot of money to justify the soaring salaries of education bureaucrats in Mississippi today.   

Babe Ruth was indeed once handsomely paid. But he was paid a lot because he possessed rare talents, for which there was tremendous demand. It isn’t quite so obvious what rare talents many of our school district superintendents on six-figure salaries have. 

Babe Ruth famously justified being paid more than the US President on the basis he’d “had a better year.” The same can hardly be said of the school superintendent in the Dispatches’ own Columbus district. Despite the superintendent getting $150,000, the school district was D-rated. 

The Dispatch insists that school superintendent salaries are market-driven and competitive.  Really? If such salaries were market-driven why was F-rated Holmes County’s superintendent paid $170,000, while A-rated Lafayette county’s school superintendent was paid $42,000 less?   

How does a competitive salary process explain the fact that the superintendent of Corinth’s district with 2,645 students enrolled was paid $210,000, while Jackson Public School district with over ten times the number of students was paid $39,000 less? 

The Dispatch suggests that our report hurts Mississippi’s image.   

No, what really harms our state are cozy cartels running public services without accountability to the public, and local newspapers doing nothing to expose the consequences. 

The Dispatch suggests that our report is “another attack on K-12 education.” 

Perhaps what really harms public education are underperforming education bureaucrats, who are able to carry on presiding over mediocrity as some in the local media look the other way. 

The Dispatch glibly dismisses our finding that dozens of education bureaucrats are paid more than the State Governor on the grounds that it has been this way for decades. So why has the Dispatch not exposed the fact? What have they been doing for all those years as top public sector salaries soared, but teachers’ pay stagnated? It’s hardly Woodward and Bernstein when it comes to holding the powerful to account, is it?  

The Dispatch claims that we are calling for “state-level approval for any local school district salary that exceeds that of the governor.’  Nowhere in our report do we propose that.   

What we do suggest is that “parents living within the School District should have the power to trigger a public vote at the board meeting to confirm or reject any portion of the salary over and above that of the State Governor.”   

Having attacked our report for calling some officials ‘fat cats,’ the Dispatch criticizes our report for not calling others ‘fat cats.’  If you read our report, we take care to say that not every highly paid official is a fat cat. We present the facts and compare what top officials are paid to what teachers, nurses, state troopers, and average Mississippians make. We let the reader decide who deserves their salaries, just as we believe the public has a right to know what public officials are paid.   

In our report, we make it very clear that our report does not cover university salaries, which lie outside its scope. In their haste to attack, the Dispatch uses this omission against us. Perhaps if they had spent a few minutes researching the topic, they would have discovered that university pay was the subject of a very detailed 50-page report we produced last year

Perhaps one fact that we did not include in our report but should have is that the per-person income in Columbus, where the school superintendent was paid $150,000 a year, is less than $25,000.   

Public interest journalism should have no problem in pointing that out, and certainly not attack those that do. 

We think most folk in Columbus and Lowndes County would agree. 


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