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In nearly every state across the country, legislators are looking for ways to maintain vital services to the neediest among us. Education, police, fire and health services have been cut in efforts to trim government budgets, so what does it say about a state's priorities when the top paid public employees are athletic coaches?
A recent study shows that, in all but ten states, the highest paid employee is an athletic coach. Usually this is a football coach, although a few states reserve the top-paying spot for basketball and, in one state, it’s the hockey coach. In the ten states in which there are state employees which make more than a coach, the position is held by another college or university position. In most cases, this is a department chair or college president. In Nevada, it is the medical school plastic surgeon. This means that, in every state, the highest-paid state employee is employed by a college or university. What does this say about our priorities?
Some will argue that the coaching positions bring money back to the school. As the study points out, though, coaches don’t generate revenue on their own, performance cannot be directly attributed to the coach, and it’s rare for the revenue generated to make its way back to the university itself. That means that the athletic departments use up all of the money they generate rather than supporting academic pursuits. So, it’s not as though these outrageous salaries can be justified with the argument that they help the student body at large. The academic positions make more sense, but it is still doubtful that paying exorbitant salaries to those in charge of these institutions pays off.
So, in every state, college employees are paid more than any other employee in the state. Not the governor at the helm, not an economist trying to bring prosperity to a state, or a law enforcement official working to keep the people safe. If the highest-paid official of a given state were an educational employee, it would make more sense for it to be the secretary of education who makes educational policy for the state. However, it is none of these people who, in short, actually do anything for the state. If that isn’t a sign that we need to reexamine our priorities, I don’t know what is.