A caveat — this post isn’t a criticism but an observation.
When Shawn Nelson was elected to the County’s Board of Supervisor’s in last June’s special election, we revealed that the anti-pension candidate in fact accepted the richest pension benefits for himself (until he found a loophole to escape it). But while on the Fullerton City Council, Nelson did decline certain financial benefits associated with the job. New Irvine Councilmember Jeff Lalloway shunned the car allowances afforded him as a city council member, making him one of the few Republican electeds to who ran on a limited government platform to adhere to his principles
Now, the LiberalOC has learned that small government swalwart Chris Thompson, recently elected to the Fullerton School Board, has accepted the full stipend, health insurance benefits, and the pension offered by the school district. The total cost to the Fullerton School District is $22,000 for family health insurance, vision, dental and life insurance for Thompson himself. Additionally, Thompson gets a stipend of about $380 per month and the district contributes 6 percent of this meager figure towards a pension through PARS (the Public Agency Retirement System).
Thompson, like others in management at Fullerton’s School District, could have opted out of these benefits, but did not. And why should he?
Now I like Chris. We met at the NUFF forum last March and have had a couple of in-depth conversations since. He has strong opinions and we don’t agree on everything, but it’s easy to talk politics with him for what seems like 5 minutes when an hour flies by. In fact, Thompson called me last Thursday after he got wind of my inquiry and gave me the information even before the district did earlier today. I believe him to be sincere in wanting to be an effective elected official, but campaigning and actual governing are two different things as even Shawn Nelson demonstrates.
From Thompson’s campaign website: “With Fullerton schools facing a very difficult $11 million budget/deficit, our challenge will be to direct your hard earned tax dollars to where they count most, in the classroom. Our current board has attempted to balance the budget through furlough days to the detriment of students. I believe the burden must be wisely distributed, but our first obligation is to children and you, the taxpayer.”
And an answer to this question from the Fullerton Observer: “I hope to raise the bar with our approach to managing the budget crisis thereby protecting children. I believe that I will bring the necessary compassion and resolve to truly make kids our top priority and resist ranking the demands of special interests equal to our mission of educating children.”
And from a Q&A with the Register:
“We must first look to administrative costs and staffing which do not directly contribute to classroom instruction. Performance as it serves children and taxpayers must be the primary consideration when making retention decisions. I will work to bring an end to the anti-student policy of last-in, first out with respect to staff cuts. With budget reductions likely continuing on for some time, we must be realistic when evaluating pension and benefits programs.
There is no question that business acumen and budgetary experience are needed in public education more than ever. I have a degree in Business Administration, but more importantly I am a no-nonsense business owner will take the necessary steps to maximize performance while staying within a budget. As of this morning, California’s unemployment rate was 12.2%. Our challenges persist and I will lead the effort to direct available dollars to the classroom.”
And lastly, the Register asked what promises Thompson would be willing to make; he said this:
“I promise that I will never make a decision which is counter to my core principles. I promise that every dollar that I vote to spend will be weighed for maximum results for kids and taxpayers. Our job is to educate children and prepare them for high school. While I will never compromise on principles, school board members must compromise with one another in crafting the finest possible academic solutions for Fullerton’s children.”
Thompson is a limited government guy; one who rails against benefits of public employee and teacher unions. And one who questions the value of certain federal and state grants, as he should. If this is a core principle, why accept the benefits of the office if true public service is at your core? Because he should.
Unlike Shawn Nelson or Jeff Lalloway, Thompson is solidly middle class. And for the amount of time he is going to spend as a trustee for the district, frankly, he deserves every dime coming his way because, if anything, he’s underpaid for his time and his responsibilities. Thompson has school-aged children and time spent on the district’s business is time taken away from them. So why shouldn’t Thompson and his family get the modest benefit accorded to him via the district’s policies. Thompson did express a desire to change the district’s benefit package so it more closely mirrors what teachers get and that’s a battle he’ll have to wage by gaining allies on the board.
Now there are abuses in the some of the packages and benefits that certain elected officials get. Being paid for meetings one doesn’t attend or only attends a portion of is something that elected Democrats and Republicans alike are guilty of in various bodies, board and commissions (State Rep. Chris Norby was famous for drive bys; showing up late for meetings, asking a question to get on the record, and taking off well before the meeting was over). Calling for unnecessary meetings to cash in on a per-meeting fee is also wrong and wasteful (we know of one city council member in OC with a nickname “Six Meeting INSERT LAST NAME HERE” because he likes to milk every dime from the commissions he’s on).
But Thompson’s benefit package at the Fullerton School District doesn’t rise to that level.
So by all means, ferret out the abuses of the system but let’s not nickel and dime those committed to public service. And while we’re at it, when running for office, perhaps campaign commentary needs to be more realistic from the candidates.
It’s my belief elected public officials should be paid and should have benefits for their time, guidance and leadership. So I personally don’t have any problem with Thompson taking the stipend and the compensation accorded to him for his service.Â But he can’t exactly claim the mantle of “small government” and “classroom first” while being on the receiving end of the taxpayer’s dime.