CARSWELL | Fat Cat Report reveals soaring public sector salaries
Who is the highest-paid public official in Mississippi? The Governor, you might imagine? No. The Lieutenant Governor or House Speaker? Not even close.
Despite being elected to the highest state-wide offices, none of these senior officials rank among the top paid public officials in our state.
Instead the accolade of highest-paid official in Mississippi goes to the State Superintendent for Public Education on a cool $300,000 a year. That eye-watering salary makes the State Superintendent not only the most highly paid official in Mississippi but one of the most highly paid State Superintendents for Education in the country – despite presiding over some of the worst education outcomes in America.
Published last week, the Mississippi Fat Cat Report shows that despite being one of the poorest states in America, we manage to have some of the highest-paid public officials in the country.
What is so striking about our report is the extent to which it is dominated by education bureaucrats, with almost half (24) of the top fifty highest salaries paid to School Board District Superintendents. The average salary for a School Board Superintendent on our list was $175,000 a year - more even than the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court ($174,000).
To be clear, not everyone that features on our list is a fat cat. Plenty of officials do demanding jobs that benefit the public. But what our report does suggest is that merely throwing public money at officials does not mean they are worth it. Nor does it necessarily make for better public services.
Take, for example, the School Superintendent for Madison County. They might happen to be the fifth highest paid School Superintendent in the state, but they run a school district with over 13,000 students, and they presided over an A rated school system. Looked at that way, the cost of the Madison School Superintendent turned out to be a mere $14 per student per year.
Moms and dads in Madison might have every reason to believe that they get good value for money, but I am less confident the same can be said elsewhere.
The School Superintendent of Corinth district was paid $210,000 despite running a B rated district with a merely 2,700 students. F-rated Holmes Country School District, with a little over 3,000 students, managed to find $170,000 to pay their Superintendent, far more than some A rated School Districts paid their Superintendents.
For as long as anyone can remember, we have been told that poor education outcomes in certain parts of Mississippi were a consequence of underfunding. Our report demonstrates that this is not true. The fundamental problem, which accounts for poor standards and soaring salaries, is a lack of public accountability.
In the run up to state elections politicians like to talk about tax cuts. After the votes are counted, we are often told the time just isn’t right for them. So how come officials always seem to be able to find the money to pay senior salaries?
Our report suggests that there needs to be more effective democratic oversight of officials. Perhaps the state legislature should hold confirmation hearings to approve any state officials receiving salaries over and above what the Governor gets? Maybe parents should have the power to veto pay increases for school superintendents above a certain level?
Excessive pay for top public officials suggests that politics in Mississippi is run by a series of cozy cartels. Too many school districts seem to lack meaningful accountability. Too many state officials answer to other officials, rather than to the people that pay their salaries. This needs to change if taxpayers are going to get the public services they need.
Douglas Carswell is the President & CEO of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.