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Cost-cutting by example

If trickle-down economics works anywhere, it’s in the debate over spending and taxes at the federal level. The spectacle of Congress and the White House brawling over trillions of dollars serves to exasperate observers of state and local government.

That’s why taxpayers may be irritated to learn of salary increases awarded or proposed:

•Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie will receive a 12 percent pay increase for the 2011-12 academic year, bringing his salary to more than $533,000. The figure puts him at about the mid-point of salaries for presidents in the Big Ten Conference.

•Ball State University trustees approved a 10 percent increase for President Jo Ann Gora, about four times the increase awarded to other university employees. The $39,204 pay hike will bring her base salary to about $431,000.

•The Indiana General Assembly’s Interim Study Committee on Education Issues is scrutinizing school superintendent salaries and benefits. Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, notes in a news release that salaries for the 291 administrators range from $29,400 to $262,800, averaging $113,162 a year. Wendy Robinson, superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools, earned $195,086 in salary and benefits last year. It is unchanged for this year.

•Shortly after announcing a state budget surplus of $1.2 billion, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said bonuses totaling $15 million to $20 million will be awarded to 90 percent of state workers, based on performance.

•While East Allen County Schools teachers will be limited to increases in longevity pay, Superintendent Karyle Green – $152,258 – has proposed increases for five elementary school principals and five central office administrators. She said the administrative increases – not across-the-board hikes – are designed to keep East Allen competitive with other districts.

The East Allen proposal drew concerns from at least two board members.

“We have to be accountable to the public,” said Richard Allgeier. “We haven’t done that for the rest of the staff. Adding salary increase, however you look at it, doesn’t seem right to me.”

Indeed, reports of pay increases, bonuses and six-figure salaries are disheartening to taxpayers facing smaller paychecks or, worse yet, no paycheck at all. The argument that a public official has cut costs, raised capital or could be lured by higher pay elsewhere is a tough one to make when so many workers are grateful to have even a low-paying job.

That’s why it’s worth noting the contributions of leaders such as Chris Himsel, superintendent of Northwest Allen County Schools. He will take a 3.5 percent pay cut in his $155,000 salary next year, while other NACS administrators will go without an increase after accepting a 3 percent cut last year. NACS teachers approved a contract in June that cuts their salaries by 3 percent. Custodians, bus drivers, nurses, secretaries and other staff members also will see a 3 percent decrease as the district struggles to balance its budget.

The contributions made by Himsel and other Northwest Allen employees are small in comparison to the trillions juggled by federal lawmakers, but the sacrifice they make should serve as an example to other public officials and employees.