A matter of degrees

Years of inconsistent rules shouldn't be an excuse for expensive pay increases

Giving modest pay increases to management-level city employees who haven't had a raise in two years is a fine idea. Standardizing compensation schedules to treat employees with college and graduate degrees fairly also makes sense.

What doesn't compute is handing out sizable pay increases to longtime employees all at once just because they happen to have earned a degree, perhaps decades ago.

The Medford City Council is considering a proposal that could result in raises of up to 6 percent for some employees.

The proposal would grant all management-level employees a 1 percent raise. Those in top management positions who have a master's degree in any field would get an additional 5 percent. Lower-level managers would receive the 5 percent increase for holding a bachelor's degree in any field.

Some elements of this proposal are troubling. First, implementing the plan as proposed would cost the city nearly $300,000. And that cost would not go away in future years because the employees would continue to earn at least the same pay from now on.

Second, while it makes a certain amount of sense to compensate employees for a bachelor's degree regardless of the field, a master's degree ought to have some connection to the job being performed. Otherwise, what is the city getting for its extra money?

Human Resources Director Doug Detling pointed out that he has a master's degree in public policy, but would be eligible for 5 percent more pay only if he had a master's in public administration with an emphasis in personnel management. That doesn't seem fair.

But what if he had a master's in, say, comparative literature? It's hard to see how that would make him a better personnel manager.

Finally, we see no compelling reason to hand out 6 percent raises to people who have held degrees for years but haven't been officially compensated for them.

Presumably longtime city employees have received pay increases over the years based on their experience and their performance. If there are specific employees who are unfairly being paid less than a coworker doing the same job, by all means equalize their pay, but do it over more than one year to lessen the effect on the city budget.

The city's salary structure has reportedly been studied since 2007 because of the issue of extra pay for some degrees but not for others. If small adjustments had been made each year since then, the problem would have been solved by now.

If council members want to make pay schedules consistent in the future and to recognize degrees equally, they should build that in to the starting salaries for new hires, who presumably would start at a lower level than senior employees. But don't spend $300,000 boosting the salaries of already well paid managers in one budget year.

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