Please don’t get the wrong idea.
If you’ve been paying attention to the newly released report by the Florida Inspector General you might think that the real gravy train for public employees comes when you get to be president of one of the 28 state colleges.
But before you get too impressed that Palm Beach State College President Dennis Gallon makes $455,714 in total compensation for running a four-campus school that educates about 49,000 students in more than 100 academic programs, consider how much better off he’d be if he were coaching at a state university.
Gallon makes about the same money as Carl Pelini, who gets $450,000 a year to be the head football coach of Florida Atlantic University’s football team, a team that went 3-9 last season and averaged the Sun Belt Conference’s lowest home-game attendance.
And Pelini’s in the cheap seats when it comes to the kind of money a coach can make at a public university in Florida. The head football coaches at Florida State University and the University of Florida each make about $2.7 million a year. They are two of the 42 head college football coaches in America who make more than $2 million a year, according to a USA Today study.
Even an assistant football coach in a big college program can rival the salary of a state college president or one of Florida’s 12 state university presidents.
Brent Pease, the offensive coordinator for UF’s football team, has a base salary of $590,000 with a $100,000 bonus for every year he stays. And that doesn’t include his $10,000 Nike bonus.
The big money in public education doesn’t go to school administrators who are responsible for the core mission of the school and the welfare of all the students. The big money goes to coaches who essentially run minor-league programs for professional sports; programs that make a fortune by using unpaid student participants who rarely are good enough to cash in on their athletic ability at the next level.
The highest paid public employee in 41 states is a football, basketball or hockey coach, not a public university president or the head of a prestigious publicly-operated medical school, the sports website Deadspin reported this week.
Florida’s highest paid public employee is Billy Donovan, the head coach of the UF basketball team, which has made 11 NCAA tournament appearances in his 17 years — including three appearances in the Final Four and two national titles.
Donovan makes $3.6 million a year.
To put that into context: If you combine the total compensation of the five highest paid presidents in Florida’s state college system (Miami-Dade College, Florida State College at Jacksonville, Valencia College, Palm Beach State College, and Broward College), you’d still have about $1.1 million left over — enough to pay the yearly compensation for Donovan’s boss, UF president Bernie Machen.
The argument for paying coaches so much money is that big athletic programs make schools millions of dollars in revenues. So, in a sense, it’s an investment of public dollars that more than pays for itself.
But Deadspin analyzed the economic data from these college sports programs and came to a different conclusion.
“Athletic departments at 99 major schools lost an average of $5 million once you take out revenue generated from ‘student fees’ and ‘university subsidies.’ ” the website found. “If you take out ‘contributions and donations’ — some of which might have gone to the universities had they not been lavished on the athletic departments — this drops to an average loss of $17 million.
“All this football/basketball revenue is sucked up by coach and AD (athletic director) salaries, by administrative and facility costs, and by the athletic department’s non-revenue generating sports; it’s not like it’s going to microscopes and Bunsen burners.”
So yes, it’s great that Gov. Rick Scott has decided to shine a light on how much money the presidents in the lower rung of Florida’s higher education system are making. But that’s a little bit like focusing on the calories of the steamed carrots instead of the loaded baked potato sitting on the same plate.