The $175,000 Box

West Virginia newspapers had a field day last week when Karen Bowling was appointed to head the state Department of Health and Human Services – at a salary of $175,000 per year.

Editorial writers were quick to point out that $175,000 is nearly eight times the per capita income of Mountain State residents. It is also $80,000 a year more than her predecessor made.

Legislators agreed to the raise after being told $95,000 per year was not enough to attract top-quality applicants.

Now some education officials are pushing to nearly double the West Virginia superintendent of schools’ salary – which, ironically enough, is $175,000 a year currently.

Last month, Charleston lawyer Charles McElwee proposed in an op-ed that we pay the state superintendent at least $300,000.

“Each of the WVU football and basketball coaches receives an annual base salary of $250,000 to entertain us,” McElwee wrote. “The state ought to be willing to pay more than that to the state superintendent to educate our children.”

That sounds reasonable, until you consider: the state superintendent doesn’t educate our children. Teachers do. And none of them make anything close to $175,000 per year. Let alone $300,000.

Dr. James Phares is serving temporarily as the state superintendent of schools. The Inter-Mountain has repeatedly stated its support for Phares, who did great work during his years heading Randolph County’s school system.

The state Board of Education has vowed to conduct a nationwide search for a new superintendent. I think they already have the right person for the job in Phares. And doubling the salary doesn’t mean they’ll find a person twice as qualified as him.

This situation reminded me of the 1980s movie “Lost in America.” The comedy stars Albert Brooks as a man who quits his high-paying job in Los Angeles, talks his wife into quitting hers, sells their house and then embarks on a journey to “find” themselves – by driving cross-country in their new home, a massive recreational vehicle.

Unfortunately, his wife manages to lose all their money in a one-night stopover in Las Vegas, and Brooks has to get a job. In the small town they’re stuck in after their RV runs out of gas, Brooks goes to the tiny unemployment office and says,?”I’ll take whatever you have open.”

The clerk says there are two open jobs: Brooks can be a crossing guard or deliver pizzas. Brooks is offended.

When the clerk asks Brooks how much he made in L.A., he says $100,000. The clerk laughs at him.

“You couldn’t be happy on $100,000?” the clerk asks.

“Don’t you have a file of higher-paying jobs?” Brooks asks. “Like a box of white-collar jobs?”

“Oh, I know,” the clerk says, laughing. “You mean the $100,000 box!”

“I’m glad I could be your afternoon’s entertainment,” Brooks says and walks out.

Most West Virginians would be happy to have a job from “the $175,000 box.” The Legislature should stop doubling salaries, and search among the talent we have in this state.