Nix The Tuition Perk
Hernando TodayThe issue: Should county government continue to offer employees tuition reimbursement at taxpayers' expense? Our opinion: Ax the program during tough economic times.
Published: March 8, 2009
Published: March 8, 2009
It's an expensive perk for taxpayers to fork out tens of thousands of dollars each year to pay for county employees' higher education - from associate degrees all the way to a Ph.D.
Better educated workers make better employees.
That's true, but it doesn't mean the two must go hand-in-hand.
Especially in these tough economic times, taxpayers shouldn't be saddled with picking up the tab for county employees to further their education.
Most of us worry about whether we will be able to afford to send our own children to college. We hardly think it is fair for taxpayers to flip the bill for county employees when many folks in our community are struggling to provide a college education for members of their own families. Many youngsters will simply have to enter the workforce - if they can find a job, that is - without the benefits of a college education.
Their families simply can't afford it.
Times are tough, and with a 12.4 percent unemployment rate in Hernando County - the second highest in the state - government needs to dig deep to dramatically reduce expenses. Tuition reimbursement is an obvious area that should be axed.
Besides, it's up to every individual to make financial decisions in their lives that will provide a brighter future. It shouldn't be up to the taxpayers to fund it.
Hernando County commissioners are exploring whether to continue the county's tuition reimbursement policy. Members of the commission's newly created budget standing committee broached the subject during their first meeting last week. After nearly 45 minutes of discussion, committee members decided they needed more information before making a recommendation to commissioners.
The debate, however, showed there are strong feelings on both sides.
Human Resources Director Cheryl Marsden, who presented several revisions to the county's existing policy, said a tuition reimbursement program creates a stronger commitment in workers. A better-trained workforce will also allow those employees to step into expanded roles as the number of higher level staff nears retirement age, she noted.
Still, whose responsibility is it to pay to educate a smarter and better-trained county workforce: taxpayers or individuals seeking to better their lives? With so many Hernando Countians out of work, there should be plenty of well-trained workers to fill any of the county's needs.
We agree with committee member Anna Liisa Covell's take on the issue: If county employees want to get more education, keep their jobs and find opportunities to climb the ladder, they will find a way to "make it happen."
County Commissioner Rose Rocco noted many county workers can't afford to take classes on their own. (Or won't if they have to pay for them out of their own pocket.) The same goes for many Hernando County residents who don't have access to such government perks but are forced to fund them.
Working for the county shouldn't be an entitlement to better education, and that goes for the top administrator. If anyone can afford to pay for continuing education, it's the top wage earner in county government who hauls in $177,805 annually, including benefits. Let him pay for his own Ph.D.
Many times, upper-level bureaucrats use tuition reimbursement to secure higher levels of education so they can get a higher paying job someplace else. That's one of the reasons why commissioners hired County Administrator David Hamilton: He had an impressive education, much of which was secured at taxpayer expense while working in other government jobs elsewhere.
The local taxpayer is left holding the bag.
We think everyone should improve his or her lot in life and continuing education is one of the best ways to secure a brighter future. We just think individuals should invest in their own future.
That's the American way.