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How Much is Your School Superintendent Making? | Schools

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How Much is Your School Superintendent Making?
Schools
How Much is Your School Superintendent Making?

By CARA MATTHEWS 

Gannett Albany Bureau

ALBANY -- With thousands of teacher layoffs and program cuts around the state, a few hundred superintendents are not getting pay increases in the upcoming school year - but some are still getting hefty ones.

See a database of salaries of local school superintendents

Many superintendents are seeing modest increases, data filed with the state Education Department show. The average base salary was $165,577 in the fiscal year that ends June 30 and will be $165,916 in upcoming school year. The average grew by 2 percent between 2009-10 and 2011-12.

But some districts are doling out generous raises for their leaders, such as $20,750 - 9.6 percent - in Carmel, Putnam County, and $23,344 - 11.4 percent - in the Pocantico Hills school district in Westchester County, a review by Gannett's Albany Bureau found.

Of the 618 school districts that reported superintendent salaries for this year and 2011-12, 197 are not increasing pay, said Robert Lowry, deputy director of the state Council of School Superintendents. More than 130 districts will be paying less for superintendents. Presumably, the majority of them hired new superintendents at lower salaries, he said.

That means more than half of the districts that reported superintendent pay to the state in the past two years have either not increased salaries for next year or are paying less, Lowry said.

"The picture that kind of emerges for us is that there's been a change in the labor market for superintendents," he said. "People are taking smaller raises and districts are paying less for new hires than they have in recent years."

In some cases, newly appointed superintendents will be making more than their predecessors. In Waverly, Tioga County, the incoming superintendent will make $150,000 a year, 20 percent more than the retiring superintendent.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo criticized superintendents' pay during the 2011-12 state budget process and proposed capping their salaries at $175,000 a year, depending on enrollment.

He recommended districts cut spending on administrators, use reserve funds and take other measures in response to budget cuts. The state ultimately reduced education aid by $1.3 billion. The controversial salary-cap proposal, which was unpopular with school officials, was not successful in the Legislature.

"We must wake up to the new economic reality that government must be more efficient and cut the cost of the bureaucracy," Cuomo said in February. "We must streamline government because raising taxes is not an option. Reducing back-office overhead, administration, consultants, and encouraging consolidations are the best targets to find savings."

With the Legislature poised to adopt a 2 percent annual property-tax cap, there will be additional pressure placed on salaries. Lawmakers and Cuomo reached a deal on the measure a few weeks ago, but they are still working out rent-control protections that will be included in the bill.

The tax cap is unpopular with school boards and teachers, but it is popular with taxpayers.

School districts are competing for a limited pool of superintendent candidates to control multi-million dollar enterprises, said Brian Butry, a spokesman for the state School Boards Association. Boards of education should be able to pay what they believe the position and the candidate are worth. They should not be limited to "an arbitrary (pay) scale from Albany," he said.

"This is a job that over the years has become more complex, more time consuming, more political," he said. "These folks are on the clock all the time."

School districts also have to report to the state how much their top administrators earn. The county with the highest average annual salary for administrators who will earn at least $120,000 in the upcoming school year is Westchester, at $161,555. Four other counties are higher than the state average of $150,160 - Putnam at $158,229; Nassau at $156,998; Rockland at $156,212 and Suffolk at $152,396. The lowest was $111,888 in Essex County.

The Big 5 school districts - New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers - are not required to report their salaries. A number of districts failed to provide the information to the state.

Some districts haven't cut back on raises to school superintendents. Elmira Heights is giving its superintendent a 5.6 percent raise, to $149,615. The West Seneca, Erie County, superintendent is getting a 7.8 percent increase to $175,000. The Tupper Lake, Franklin County, school district is boosting its leader's pay by 17.4 percent, to $128,169; and the Little Falls, Herkimer County, school board is increasing its superintendent's pay $22,000 to $152,000.

Meanwhile, the Syosett, Nassau County, superintendent is getting a 4.75 percent raise to $405,244, the highest salary in the state.

In some school systems where superintendents are getting raises, they will be paying more for their health insurance or have agreed to other givebacks, Lowry said.

"I think that the boards are being tighter on what they're willing to pay new hires, and I presume with the sitting superintendents, they are showing on average more restraint as well as their boards," he said. "It's a mutual agreement."

Paula Hurley, superintendent of the Trumansburg school district in Tompkins County, said she volunteered to freeze her salary, "recognizing that these are difficult times and there are people that are losing positions and have lost positions over the last few years."

Her base pay will continue to be $142,627 in the upcoming school year. She received a 12.3 percent boost in the current year, from $127,000 to $142,627.

"Over the last three years, we have had layoffs and have not replaced positions due to attrition," she said.

The same is true for Peggy Wozniak, superintendent of the Binghamton school district, who will earn $166,360 for the second consecutive year in 2011-12. In 2009-10, her base salary was $163,098.

"Given the situation and so many cuts that we were making in the district, it was just the prudent and the right thing to do," she said.

Wozniak said her two assistant superintendents also accepted pay freezes for the new school year.

West Irondequoit, Monroe County, Superintendent Jeffrey Crane said his base salary was $168,000 for three consecutive school years - 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10. While the data reported to the Education Department shows his pay is $168,000 this year and $186,300 in 2011-12, he said it increased 10 percent to $184,800 for 2010-11 and will remain at that level for the upcoming school year.

"As we foresaw the economic crisis coming and some of the things that were happening around state aid, I asked and the board agreed to freeze my salary for those three years," he said.

Crane, an educator for 37 years, noted that he went from not paying anything for his health insurance when he first took the job eight years ago to contributing 25 percent of it in the upcoming school year.

Superintendents have broad responsibilities that include serving as a community and educational leader, analyzing test scores and serving as a financial manager, said Charles Perreaud, West Irondequoit school board president.

The district has "tremendous achievement" compared with communities in the county that have higher incomes, he said. 
"We're absolutely doing something unique. We're absolutely doing something powerful for our students, and to recognize the chief administrator of that system I think is important and appropriate," he said.

Perraud, a board member for nearly 14 years, said he understands the governor's concern about superintendents' salaries, but it would be appropriate to look at the issue on a broader level to also include administrators and teachers. There would need to be a balance with local control and the potential to override a salary cap, he said.

W.L. "Tony" Sawyer, superintendent of the Mount Vernon, Westchester County, school district, said he declined to take the 4 percent raise he was due in 2009-10 and made $236,900 during third year of his contract. He wanted the teachers union to understand the district is struggling financially, he said.

In the 2010-11 school year, he is earning $256,231, the scheduled salary for the fourth year of his contract. As of July 1, the final year of the contract, his pay will increase to $269,043, a 5 percent boost.

Sawyer said he didn't get much attention for the roughly $10,000 he gave up last year, but he has faced scrutiny on the amount of his salary.

"I don't think people have any idea of what superintendents of urban school districts go through," he said. "I don't think they understand the challenges we face financially, the time involved."

Sawyer said this is the contract he signed when he took the Mount Vernon job and the work he does justifies the pay.

"I make what I make and I make it honestly. I'm not trying to rob or steal or do anything illegal," Sawyer said.

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