FFM Bulletin 7/22/08

State pension fund manager gets huge raise

The ongoing hiring freeze may have stopped the State of Minnesota from bringing on new staff it can't afford, but it hasn't prevented the state from paying more for some of the staff it already has. A lot more. Last Friday, a legislative panel unanimously approved a raise for Howard Bicker, executive director of the Minnesota State Board of Investment, the entity responsible for overseeing and administering the state pension fund. Bicker's current salary - a paltry $144,000 - will increase to somewhere in the range of $195,000 to $295,000. The panel also approved healthy raises for several of his top staff. Bicker's raise of 35%-105% seems a bit... generous considering the state's fiscal health (or lack thereof) and future economic uncertainty.

Senator James Metzen (DFL-South St. Paul) justified the pay raises for Bicker and his staff, saying the State needed to attract "competent people" and that the raises "are small numbers compared to what they're [dealing with] over there." Of course, the same could be said of any number of agency heads with responsibility for enormous budgets.

If you're wondering how Mr. Bicker's salary compares to other high-ranking state officials, here's a sampling:

  • Governor - $119,850

  • Attorney General - $113,951

  • State Auditor - $96,177

  • Maximum state agency commissioner salary - $114,288

For more information on public employee salaries, visit two new government transparency resources online:

Teachers union president wants schools to offer medical, dental, legal services

If the new president of the American Federation of Teachers gets her way, public schools will be transformed into "community centers" that feature medical, dental and counseling clinics, child care services, and evening recreation activities. Randi Weingarten, who was elected head of the nation's second largest teachers union earlier this month, made the remarks in her acceptance speech before the union. You can read the entire transcript or just skip to the scary part:

"Can you imagine a federal law that promoted community schools - schools that serve the neediest children by bringing together under one roof all the services and activities they and their families need? Imagine schools that are open all day and offer after-school and evening recreational activities and homework assistance. High schools that allow students to sign up for morning, afternoon or evening classes. And suppose the schools included child care and dental, medical and counseling clinics, or other services the community needs. For example, they might offer neighborhood residents English language instruction, GED programs or legal assistance."

While Ms. Weingarten is encouraging us to imagine all the benefits of these community schools, here's another thing to imagine: the financial and societal implications of radically expanding the role of our public schools while virtually eliminating the role of parents. The American Federation of Teachers is one of the nation's leading (or at least loudest) voices in education, and its president is openly advocating the most massive expansion of our public schools in history.

But this is hardly the time to transform the public school system according to Ms. Weingarten's utopian vision. Nationally, only 39% of 4th graders in public schools are proficient in math. In Minnesota, that number is marginally better, with 51% demonstrating proficiency in math. Reading proficiency is even more discouraging. Nationally, less than one-third of public school 4th graders are proficient readers.

Instead of expanding their scope, our public schools should focus on the core function of educating children and the union should do everything it can to make that happen or, at the very least, get out of the way.

America's Future Foundation event this Thursday, July 24

This Thursday, July 24, the America's Future Foundation is holding "The Pre-Convention Debate," a roundtable event on the future of conservative principles in major party politics, particularly in the 2008 election. The event will be held at Solera Restaurant in downtown Minneapolis. Roundtable participants include Jeff Larson of the Minneapolis St. Paul 2008 Host Committee, author Ryan Sager, and David Freddoso of National Review. The event will be moderated by Freedom Foundation of Minnesota CEO Annette Meeks.

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