February 3, 2013 | Back to: Opinion

Editorial: Shouldn’t education benefits extend to all?

We suspect a fair number of county employees have a question for the Douglas County commissioners: Where can they apply for the county’s scholarship program?

Now that county commissioners are paying for one employee to complete her bachelor’s degree, it seems reasonable that other employees in good standing who want to move up in their departments might seek financial help to further their education. If it’s a benefit for one employee, shouldn’t it be for all?

Or maybe you, the taxpayers, are wondering if paying for the education of an employee who makes $54,000 annually is a wise and fair use of your tax dollars. It certainly seems to be a departure from the role of government. Some may also think it’s inappropriate for the county to use public funds to pay tuition to a Christian institution of higher learning.

Such questions arise from the decision by county commissioners to pay up to $40,000 toward tuition and books for county employee Jessica Pence to attend Northwest Christian University in Eugene to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Commissioners chose to invest in Pence’s education with the intention of grooming her to be the county’s chief financial officer.

In return for the college costs, Pence, 30, who has worked for the county for nearly six years, is expected to retain the position for at least five years. That job has paid $92,000 annually in the past.

Commissioners elected to take the unconventional route after their most recent hire in the position resigned after just four months. They claim it’s difficult to find qualified applicants because of the county’s uncertain financial future.

The county’s human resources department confirmed that the county received a fair number of applicants but few had government accounting experience. Don Cherry said the county advertised on Monster.com, Indeed.com and the county website. He said they even developed a brochure and sent it to larger jurisdictions. The News-Review made calls to three different government finance offices across the state but none had heard of a shortage of qualified applicants for CFO positions.

It’s admirable for county commissioners to want to promote a young, single mother who’s proven to be dedicated and a hard worker. We’re also impressed with Pence’s grueling schedule of working and going to school full time.

The issue remains whether the county will do the same for others. Will someone in public works, the sheriff’s office or IT be given the same opportunity? And does providing educational funding signal a change in the role of our county government?

It’s important for county commissioners to be creative when looking for solutions to a problem, but they need to be wary of setting precedents. They also need to consider taxpayers’ perceptions of their decisions, because that’s who pays their salaries.



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The News-Review Updated Feb 4, 2013 02:45PM Published Feb 3, 2013 12:04AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.