Monday, July 20, 2009

Ben Austin: The Six Figure Salary Man - Green Dot

Keep the PUBLIC in public schoolsThe Los Angeles Daily News has this wonderful function where you can search the City of Los Angeles employee salaries. This is what you get when you search for Mr. Ben Austin, whose day job is with the City Attorney's Office:


Rumor has it Mr. Austin makes at least that much moonlighting as the Executive of Green Dot/Parent Revolution (née LAPU). I say rumor, since like any private corporation, Green Dot doesn't have to make such information available to the public, although ultimately, we taxpayers are the source of much of Green Dot's income. Mr. Austin is a skilled lawyer and rhetorician. A very articulate man with the ability to pose as a populist, so it's understandable why he was Green Dot's choice to run their astroturf efforts.

Just one of Ben Austin's jobs pay roughly 2.5 times the median UTLA teacher salary. Another way to view this is that we could pay five teachers the average pay scale for the price of one corporate charter astroturf executive. Listening to Howard Blume or Steve Barr discuss UTLA salaries, you'd think they were the highest paid people in the city, but on average, they make about a fifth of what Mr. Austin makes. Not that he isn't worth every penny, witness LAUSD Board Vice President Flores Aguilar introducing her Orwellian-named Public School Choice: A New Way at LAUSD resolution at the behest of Green Dot. These folks have serious juice, and Steve Barr is a rock star of sorts with right of center Democrats like Arne Duncan.

For a man given to railing against things for "grownups" [1], those are some very grownup salaries Ben Austin makes. In 2008 right wing libertarian Ron Kaye claimed Mr. Austin's very special arrangement was approved by the City Ethics Commission [2]. It can't hurt for parents and community members to request the details of the arrangement, and if such arrangements cover his current increased involvement with Green Dot.

Why does it matter that Ben Austin clears at least a quarter million dollars a year and lives in an exclusive gated community in Beverly Hills? Frankly, because it clearly demonstrates his class interests are completely different than those he purportedly espouses. In other words, when he gets up in front of the school board and talks about "our schools," and "our kids, our communities, and our collective futures" [1] he's using a very rhetorical our. That's because he knows nothing about our communities, schools, or children. Steve Barr, Marco Petruzzi, and Ben Austin don't live in working class neighborhoods, have working class jobs, or working class concerns. Nor do any of them possess degrees in education. What they do have is a very lucrative CMO with sycophantic press and close allies in the Democratic Party's DLC and DFER, all of whom seem bent on increasing their already substantial wealth. So much for "putting kids first!"

More on this soon!

[2] Ron Kaye "The high cost of keeping the public ignorant"
[3] As for the title of this post--yes, the allusion to the 1970's series is intentional.



Anonymous said...

Loved this part, "In other words, when he gets up in front of the school board and talks about "our schools," and "our kids, our communities, and our collective futures" [1] he's using a very rhetorical our."

Anonymous said...

According to their 990 tax form, Green Dot paid Austin $94,475 in between 7-1-07 and 6-30-08 for "consulting." Not too shabby!

Anonymous said...

I've been to Steve Barr's house. Trust me, it's a working class neighborhood.

Robert D. Skeels * rdsathene said...

@Anonymous - have any real estate agent run a BPO appraisal on Snake Oil Steve's house. Trust me, it isn't a house priced for the working class. While Silver Lake was once an affordable place and has homes that convey that appearance, gentrification has made that neighborhood accessible only to the well to do.

Try checking out Green Dot Public [sic] Schools' 990 forms to get an idea of the kind of base pay Barr pulls down, and understand that for some time he and his investors owned the 'means of production' for Green Dot, before Petruzzi was brought on board and pushed Barr to the side. Consider too, the fact that anyone could dismiss $51,000 with a casual "it was a few missing receipts," speaks volumes to Barr's class distinctions here.

Throw in the fact that Barr, Petruzzi, and Austin work directly for, and as proxies for the ruling class (eg. Waltons, Gates, Broads, Hastings, Fishers, etc.) and I think you'll find your somewhat feeble defense of Barr lacking.

Let's put that another way. I'm working class and make roughly what a mid-range UTLA teacher makes. There's no way I'd ever be able to afford the note on Steve Barr's house. Well unless I became an arrogant, unqualified, and overbearing spokesperson for Pinochet style privatization of public schools -- then I'd command a salary that would get me a house on Barr's block.

Anonymous said...

There appears to be a transparency issue regarding the actual, not stated, facts about Green Dot Schools. Check out Wikipedia on Green Dot, every line is marked with "needs reference" or "weasel words." The only facts I can find online are from blogs and public media. Something's happening here.