More bonus outrage: bonuses for principals of failing schools

Outrage over retention bonuses have become all the, well, rage these days, literally and figuratively, after AIG paid over $165 million to 73 execs to keep them around while they work to end their jobs.  But what about retention bonuses for failing schools instead of arbitrageurs?  The Voice for School Choice discovered today that seventeen principals in South Carolina will get bonuses despite running schools that don’t even measure up to mediocrity:

Seventeen Charleston County principals who oversee the school district’s lowest-achieving schools will receive more than $320,000 in bonuses this year for working at their respective schools.

The bonus money comes directly from the state and can’t be used to cover the $13.3 million in mid-year state funding cuts or the projected $28 million deficit next year. But the supplement money could be used for other school-based programs, such as credit recovery courses or training for teachers.

The practice of offering the bonuses started three years ago under former Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, and the goal was to attract experienced principals to its most needy schools. The district since has offered bonuses at some below average and unsatisfactory-rated schools to recruit the best applicants.

There are actually quite a few parallels between the bonuses at AIG and Charleston County schools.  They needed to offer an incentive to get principals to work at bad schools and to keep them from leaving.  AIG needed to keep key executives on board throughout the process of dismantling units of their business.  The bonuses are including in contractual agreements, making it nearly impossible to withdraw them.  Unlike AIG, Freddie Mac, and Fannie Mae, though, Charleston County agreed to pay the bonuses for three years before tying them to actual job performance.

As VSC notes, the news hasn’t improved for South Carolina parents:

While many classroom teachers are fearing for their jobs, there are legions of consultants, bureaucrats and administrators who continue to cash-out from the $11,480 per child public school spending.

Just as the budget crisis worsens, parents are getting more bad news about public school performance. Unlike the budget crunch, which began in November of last year, low test scores, growing race- and wealth gaps, a 55% graduate rate and a surge in the number of failing public schools are a long term trend in South Carolina public schools.

In the latest round of bad news, parents were shocked to learn that according to a nationwide study, 11 of the country’s worst performing public schools are located in South Carolina. Of those 11 persistently failing schools, 4 are located in Charleston South Carolina.

When will Congress demand testimony from Goodloe-Johnson?  Unlike Edward Liddy, she actually created the bonus plans, apparently without checking with the school board first.  Will they demand that Goodloe-Johnson get back the bonus money paid to those who run failing schools?  Will they pass bills of attainder to tax the bonuses at a 100% rate in order to confiscate them for the Treasury?

Don’t hold your breath.  Congress should have stayed out of the private sector from the beginning, and if they had, those AIG bonuses would never have been paid.  But public schools fall in the public sector and get federal money.  That’s actually within Congress’ purview (although it shouldn’t be).  That means, of course, that they will ignore it.

Update: Tom Maguire points out the reason for AIG’s retention bonuses — which look more rational than these.

Jazz Shaw Jun 22, 2021 6:01 PM ET