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Spin Control

Dorn apologizes (sort of) for Cliff Lee comparison

OLYMPIA — State Schools Superintendent Randy Dorn is sorry he compared his salary to Mariners’ pitcher Cliff Lee’s salary last week.

Which isn’t too surprising, considering he’s been taking flak for it for the last week on talk radio and elsewhere. It probably doesn’t help that Lee is proving to be well worth his salary these days, what with last night’s third consecutive complete game victory. If Dorn put up numbers like that for school test scores or graduation rates, he might be able to get a raise, too.

The background: Last week at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing, Dorn was telling legislators it was time for the nation to rethink priorities and put more resources on education.

“I don’t want to tell you how many pitches my salary would pay for, for Cliff Lee from the Mariners. It would be embarassing. Somebody who’s responsible for a 1,050,000 kids. It would only add up to a few pitches,” Dorn said. “We have our priorities out of whack.”

“It should be embarassing to our state, and the citizenry of the United States, that we’re only willing to spend, basically, a half a game, to be responsible for 1,050,000 students.”

Gov. Chris Gregoire was asked this morning what she thought of Dorn’s comments, and she declined to get involved in comparing  the SPIs and ERAs. But she didn’t support giving out raises, either.

“Every family that I know of in Washington state is struggling,” she said. “Nobody that I know of in public or private sectors is expecting pay raises now.”

Today, Dorn issued a statement about his previous statement, insisting that he was merely trying to make the point that we need to spend more on education by comparing it with what’s spent on professional sports.

“Unfortunately I made the mistake of using my salary as the point of comparison.  It was a poor analogy and I regret using it,” he said. “But I don’t regret pointing out the absurdity of our current lack of commitment to education funding.  I strongly believe we need to reset government and actually dedicate ourselves to fully funding a basic education for every child in this state.  Our future as a society depends on it.”

So here’s the problem with the logic in today’s statement…


If he really wanted to compare what’s spent on education with what’s spent on sports, he can’t compare his salary, which is $121,618, to Lee’s, which is about $9 million.

Baseball is a meritocracy. That is, people get paid for doing well based on what the market says they are worth. Players have a base salary, but they get raises and bonuses for playing better. And if they stay around long enough and play much better, they get to negotiate for even more money. That’s the position Lee is in right now, pitching well as he approaches free agency.

Education, at least the part of it that Dorn is in, is a bureaucracy. It’s a state agency funded by tax payers and the salary is set by a commission based on comparisons with other states and similar jobs elsewhere. Barring some malfeasance in office, Dorn gets that salary regardless of how well he does or the students do — at least until his term is up at the end of 2012. then he can ask voters to extend his contract, or find another job. His pay is not base on his performance, it’s really based on the state’s way of guessing what the job is worth.

And he knew that was the salary when he ran for election in 2008.

If he wanted to argue the relative support of professional sports versus education, a better comparison might be what the Mariners spend on their budget compared to what Washington state spends on education.

But can be a tough argument, because the Ms probably spend a couple hundred million, total (their salaries are at $98 million, but there’s uniforms, travel, advertising, all those bobble head dolls they give away…) But they also take in money, and the more they spend on good players like Lee who win games — in theory — the better the team plays and the more fans come and the more money is spent on beer and licensed T shirts.

The state spends billions, with a B, on education, for those 1,050,000 students. But the demand for a seat in the classroom is driven by demographics. The ability of the students to learn is driven by individual ability plus outside factors like stable homes, good nutrition, health, competent teachers and facilities. Giving Dorn or any state superintendent of public instruction a raise isn’t going to change that.

Professional sports and public education run on two completely different models. One’s a business, the other is not.


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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

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