In Miami-Dade County government, running hospitals pays far better than running schools.
Payroll records from the three largest arms of Miami-Dade government — the school system, the Jackson hospital network and the county itself — show medical executives and providers dominating the top slots while school-board officials barely crack the list of best earners.
Of the 1,000 best-paid employees, only 23 come from the school system. That’s despite school employees accounting for more than half of the more than 90,000 payroll positions included in 2015 data from the three government arms analyzed by the Miami Herald.
Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, head of the county’s largest employer, earned $345,000 last year, more than any other person on the school system’s payroll. That was only enough to snag him the 47th position on the Top 1,000 list.
Jackson CEO Carlos Migoya leads the list with $1 million in pay, followed by much of his senior staff, top doctors and other medical professionals in the tax-funded hospital system. Jackson officials held 48 of the top 50 slots, with only Carvalho and County Attorney Abigail Price-Williams ($347,000) preventing a clean sweep.
Culled from 91,870payroll entries, the compensation data shows almost all of the take-home pay for Miami-Dade’s three largest local-government entities. The Herald excluded most severance pay for departing employees, which is inflated by payouts of unused leave and deferred retirement benefits.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a resume from a Dade County attorney.
Local legal recruiter Joseph Ankus.
The list has some quirks: Police officers note some of their compensation comes from outside sources, who hire them for security through the county. Miami-Dade’s school system lumps reimbursement for tuition, an employee benefit, with more standard reimbursement for business expenses paid out of pocket. Miami-Dade’s county government includes reimbursement for tuition but not for business expenses. Sometimes one-time compensation is included in the governments’ base-pay figures: one of the county government’s top-paid officials in is a police captain, Tyrone White, who earned back pay from prior years from an arbitration ruling issued in 2015.
But overall, the list offers the most detailed look available at what government officials make in Miami-Dade.
A compensation expert said he wasn’t surprised by the dollar divide between health and education in county government, given the big bucks medical professionals command in private industry.
“If you look at the public sector, healthcare is one of the highest-paid areas, if not the highest-paid area,” said Luis Navas, a compensation consultant with Global Governance Advisors in Miami. With Jackson competing against private-sector hospitals for patients and staff, government tends to boost compensation to prevent top employees from jumping ship.
“Those senior managers in healthcare,” Navas said, “they have so many options.”
While he’s at the top of the Miami-Dade list, though, Migoya earns far less than the nearly $4 million in compensation reported for the head of Miami-Dade’s largest private-sector hospital system, Baptist Health.
I do believe we have a team of leaders that are much more competent than we’ve ever had before. I’m less frustrated with high salaries when they’re competent.
Martha Baker, union president representing Jackson hospital employees
A former banker and city manager, Migoya took Jackson’s top job in 2011 at a time when the hospital system was in a tailspin from mismanagement and a recession was hammering its flow of tax subsidies. He’s credited with a turnaround at the hospital, with patient admissions up nearly 7 percent over five years and turning an operating deficit into a $62 million gain, the largest in the system’s history.
Martha Baker, head of a union mostly representing Jackson nurses and healthcare workers, is pushing Migoya to back a 4 percent raise for employees next year. But she said Migoya’s performance makes him much less of a target for criticism about high salaries.
“I do believe we have a team of leaders that are much more competent than we’ve ever had before,” said Baker, president of Services Employees International Union Local 1991. “I’m less frustrated with high salaries when they’re for competent administrators.”
Jackson administrators noted the bulk of its top earners are practicing physicians, not administrators. In a statement, Migoya said the relatively high compensation on the government scale was needed to keep Jackson competitive, even if it can’t match what competitors pay.
Behind Migoya on the compensation list sit two other Jackson employees: chief operating officer Don Steigman, with $760,000 in 2015 compensation, and Moises Jacobs, a gastric surgeon who specializes in weight-loss surgery on the stomach, with about $740,000.
“I am proud to have assembled an exceptional leadership team that is more passionate about the work we do and upholding Jackson’s mission than they are about compensation,” Migoya said in a statement. “Our team is forward-thinking and results oriented — and proof of our success is Jackson’s dramatic financial turnaround.”
Payroll represents the top cost for most governments, and it’s also a favorite lightning rod for critics of government spending.
County Commissioner Xavier Suarez has been waging a campaign to cut down on management positions, claiming the Miami-Dade bureaucracy is too top-heavy. Citing the high compensation of attorneys on Price-Williams’ staff, he wants the county’s pay scale to max out at what the most senior judges in Florida earn — about $162,200. On the county payroll last year, lawyers held 18 of the top 25 payroll slots.
“I still hold the opinion that we should not be paying anyone in county government — with the possible exception of a very specialized doctor — more than we pay Florida Supreme Court justices,” said Suarez, a lawyer and former Miami mayor. “I know I could find someone good for $162,200 a year.”
Joseph Ankus, a local legal recruiter, said it’s rare to see a Miami-Dade lawyer interested in leaving.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a resume from a Dade County attorney,” said Ankus, of Ankus Consulting in Fort Lauderdale. “They pay well … It’s a more balanced lifestyle than private practice.”
Price-Williams declined an interview request for this story. Despite Suarez’s complaints, his fellow commissioners have shown no interest in cutting pay in the County Attorney’s Office. Last week, Commissioner Dennis Moss pointed to Price-Williams’ well-paid staff as “the best law firm in town.”
Miami-Dade’s county government already posts employee compensation online, but the school system and Jackson do not. The tax-funded payrolls are also key sources of jobs in Miami-Dade.
The school system, with about 33,500 full-time workers, is Miami-Dade’s largest employer, followed by the county government, with 26,000 employees, according to the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade’s economic-development agency. Jackson finished seventh on the list, with roughly 9,800 full-time workers.
Among the highlights from the payroll data the Herald compiled:
▪ The school system has the biggest jump in pay from the No. 2 to the No. 1 slot. Carvalho’s $345,000 compensation was 60 percent higher than the No. 2 slot, which went to school board attorney Walter Harvey, with $217,000 for the year. At Jackson, Migoya made 39 percent more than Steigman, and Price-Williams earned just 9 percent more than assistant county attorney Cynthia Johnson-Stacks.
Through a Carvalho spokeswoman, the school system’s human resources chief, Jose Dotres said: “While we understand that District employee compensation is well below that of other government entities, we also know that we are driven by the desire to serve children and families enriching their lives through education.”
▪ Within county government, there’s a wide divide between the best-paid departments and the worst-paid. At the top among the large departments: the County Attorney’s Office, where compensation averaged $122,000. At the bottom: Parks, which uses part-time workers to save on costs. Average pay for a Parks employee last year: less than $25,000.
I still hold the opinion that we should not be paying anyone in county government — with the possible exception of a very specialized doctor — more than we pay Florida Supreme Court justices.
County Commissioner Xavier Suarez. The justices make less than $163,000 a year.
Among the highlights for the payroll data:
▪ County Mayor Carlos Gimenez took office in 2011 on a promise to cut the position’s hefty pay of roughly $320,000. Gimenez did, and his 2015 compensation was $150,000. That’s tied with what Zoo Miami chief Carol Kruse earned after being hired in May 2015. Both ended up as the 388th best-paid county workers in 2015.
Andrew Biggs studies government compensation for American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. He said that while government wages tend to trail private-sector counterparts, governments usually offer much better benefits. That’s most noticeable in retirement, when government workers — including those in Miami-Dade — enjoy fixed pension payments, while the typical private-sector retirees are at the mercy of investment return from employer stock plans.
“In government,” he said, “your healthcare tends to be a bit more generous and your retirement benefits tend to be much, much more generous.”
Julie Staub, Jackson’s chief human resources officer, said the tax-funded hospital system usually lags competitors when it comes to compensation, with salaries falling in the lower half among other hospitals.
Jackson has other advantages, Staub said. Its partnership with the University of Miami gives medical providers the chance to participate in more cutting-edge surgeries and research than a private-sector hospital would take on. And Staub said some Jackson employees just like the idea of working for a public hospital.
With tax money subsidizing operations, Staub said Jackson feels an obligation to let other hospitals pay more.
“We’re fiscally responsible,” she said. “We have a duty to perform a service to the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County. We also have a duty to provide high-quality healthcare. We have to keep everything in balance.”
This post was updated to correct the spelling of Julie Staub, Jackson’s chief human resources officer.