What SF’s ‘Poop Patrol’ Says About Our Priorities


Who cares about kids? Poop rules!

San Francisco has a problem. Well, it has a lot of problems, but one is that it has thousands of homeless people, and many of them have the delusion that sidewalks are a reasonable alternative to toilets. While liquid waste evaporates as the morning fog disappears, there were many small piles left behind with their piquant fragrances. Although a few tourists found them quaint, most people were offended.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed leapt into action, creating a “poop patrol,” and most of the mounds disappeared. But she also released the budget for the work. Professional pooper scoopers, those picking up the remains left behind, earn $71,780 a year — well over six figures once mandated benefits are added in. Now that’s a lot of poop!

When I read off the story about it from the San Francisco Chronicle, my wife, instead of laughing, was outraged. “Teachers in Palm Beach County don’t earn that much even if they’ve taught for 30 years,” she said indignantly. Actually, I discovered that a small group of math and science specialists, real veterans in shortage areas, do make a bit more than the poopers. But almost no teachers elsewhere in the country do.

Now those of you who know economics might say that it costs more to live in California, so wages are higher there, and you are right. Teachers do earn more than pooper scoopers in San Francisco. That is, they do if they have earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree and are in their ninth year of teaching. Can you imagine one of those elementary school teachers in her eighth year of teaching, having been to college and graduate school, saying to herself, “Wow, after another 10 months of teaching, I will earn as much as those guys picking up poop?”

Keep in mind that a lot of the money comes in the form of pensions, which in California are in an increasingly tenuous system. Some cities and taxing boards have stopped paying into the system or are raising taxes to pay for the current third of a trillion deficit. Some California politicians want everyone in the country to make those pensions good. Imagine how our teachers and deputies (not to mention most of the rest of us) will feel when taxes go up so pooper scoopers can get pensions larger than theirs.

Now, I know a bit about poop picking, since I have a dog. Perhaps I am a natural, but the first time Lexi did solid business, I bent over and picked it up using a plastic bag. After a couple of times, I learned to slide my hand inside the bag, pick up the poop and then reverse it. No schooling needed. And many years ago, when I started teaching, I did janitorial services during the summer. Since one of the areas I had to check was an entrance from the subway, I occasionally did have some human waste to handle. An old timer showed me how to clean it up, using the special scoops, using water and then alcohol-based cleansers to clean up. That took perhaps 15 minutes.

I doubt the current poopers have to take classes. Imagine the classes that might exist: “Introduction to Pooping,” “Philosophy of Pooping,” “Psychology of Pooping,” “Organic Chemistry of Waste” and more.

I am joking, of course, about the classes, but I wonder what kind of society pays people who pick up other people’s waste more than they pay those who teach their children. As an old-line educator, I spent a third of a century listening to all sorts of promises about cherishing our children, teaching them values and training them for a worthwhile life. Why not tell our children, “Hey, forget about really studying. Do you want to be a teacher? You’ll do a lot better forgetting school. Drop out, and learn to pick up the poop.”

I know this is a minor bit of amusement for all of us, except for those, of course, playing hopscotch as they walk through the streets of San Francisco. But perhaps it might also explain why so few of our best college students are choosing to become teachers.