Educator pay

The desperation of Nevada's education establishment now rivals that of the doomed Donner Party. The political climate has become so cold, the economic realities so impassable that these government employees are ready to eat their own.

Public school teachers have long complained about the higher pay and questionable need for so many administrators. With the school district preparing for layoffs at all levels, administrators are taking shots at recent compensation increases and perks given to the district's top executive staff. And within higher education, the adjunct and associate professors, who teach the most, are quick to point out that the system's highest salaries are reserved for the people who teach the least, or not at all.

Now the Legislature is stepping in to oversee the cannibalism. As part of their budget-balancing actions in the recently concluded special session, lawmakers issued a resolution that requires all school districts and the university system's elected regents to formalize recommendations on improving fiscal efficiency and accountability. In reports due Sept. 1, the education entities must present organizational structures and budgets for posting on the Internet, defend the growing salaries and benefits handed to top staff and suggest how they might be reduced, and review the ratios of administrators to staff and students.

The resolution makes it clear that any salary reductions made in response to shrinking tax collections must be "made in a fair and equitable manner" and exhibit "shared sacrifice" to prevent layoffs whenever possible.

Part of the reason for the resolution no doubt is rooted in the Clark County School District's ongoing controversy over increases in compensation to top staff. The School Board approved more than $100,000 in new benefits for members of Superintendent Walt Rulffes' Cabinet.

We're all for transparency in public expenditures, efficiency and accountability. Certainly, given the big increases in compensation for all public employees over the years, reductions in those salaries and benefits are warranted given the severity of this recession. It's a far better option than layoffs, with the local unemployment rate at 13.8 percent.

But the Legislature's resolution misses the bigger picture. Comparing one group of government salaries to another offers little perspective without bringing falling private-sector wages into the examination. If public employee wages and benefits were even slightly comparable to those offered by Nevada businesses, state governments wouldn't be in the budget hole they're trying to climb out of -- not even close.

If educators want to feast on each other to survive the downturn, fair enough. As long as they -- and lawmakers -- understand that there's no more flesh to pick from the bones of starving taxpayers.