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At Issue: Slashing School Superintendents' Salaries

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is making local school trustees and superintendents scapegoats to take the heat off Albany, one critic says.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s wish to cap school superintendents’ salaries would force all the boards of education in the Lower Hudson Valley to slash their top administrators’ pay.

The proposal has been met with bemusement by local school officials, who said Cuomo was trying to take the public eye off the real issues in education spending.

“To cap superintendents’ salaries at an amount far below what our region’s districts are now paying is a smoke screen to cover Albany’s inaction,” said Lisa Davis, executive director of the Westchester-Putnam School Boards Association.

The cap would be based on student enrollment. Starting with a maximum of $125,000 for the head of a district of up to 250 students, the salary cap would rise in $10,000 increments to $175,000 for the head of a district with more than 6,500 students.

Local voters could override the cap in May at the local budget vote. Caps would go into effect as current superintendents’ contracts end.

In his announcement Monday, Cuomo said the bill would save a combined $15 million statewide. 

In 2009-10, the total budget for public schools was $56 billion—half of which came from local taxes, according to the state education department. Cuomo has proposed lowering state spending for education to $19.4 billion in 2011-12.

In Putnam, Rockland and Westchester counties, the money that pays for local superintendents’ salaries comes mainly from property taxes, not the state—state aid is on average less than 10 percent of school district budgets in Westchester and Putnam. It’s different both with the state’s cities and with rural districts upstate, where superintendents’ salaries are also lower.

According to Cuomo’s office, 33 percent of superintendents in New York now are paid more than $175,000.

That includes 100 percent of the school chiefs in the Lower Hudson Valley’s Patch communities. The average local superintendent salary was above $250,000 as of May 2010, according to figures from the state education department. Peekskill school district's superintendent Judith Johnson made $212,226 in the 2010 to 2011 school year and its interim superintendent is paid $975 per week.

Cutting superintendent salaries back to the cap would do little for either the state’s or local districts’ budgets, Davis pointed out.

Meanwhile, neither the administration nor lawmakers have addressed the huge bills local districts must pay for a litany of state-mandated items from reports to pensions, she said. The state’s Board of Regents, which oversees all education in New York, has created a list of changes to state laws and regulations that could substantially lower districts’ costs if they were relaxed or revoked, but no action has been proposed on any of them. 

“At the end of the day in New York state it seems to be business as usual,” Davis said.

Walter Kerschbaum March 16, 2011 at 10:21 PM
I was driving with a friend who is a top real estate agent in Scarsdale. He gets calls while driving and has a phone system that allows him safely and legally to listen and speak. I heard a Scarsdale resident pleading with this agent to try and sell her home - she said that the taxes were driving her into bankruptcy and she simply had to get out. She cried. She begged and pleaded. People are desperate, and the teachers unions ask for more and more, and the administrators get more and more. We were driving to have lunch together. I lost my appetite.
Scout64 March 17, 2011 at 03:46 AM
Everyone needs to give a little to help the greater cause .... So, are the State Legislature's 'feeling the pain' during this crisis? I believe their part-time job's base salary is $79,500 + $9,700 ($154/day for travel every day in session x 63 regular days a yr) + stipends for committees and special assignments AND they get a pension and health care. What are they giving up? Our neighboring states legislative compensation - CT: $28,000 ; NJ: $49,000 NO per diem in either state. Quite a difference ..... When they were battling with Patterson last year the gaveled in and gaveled out, did no work ... but got their $154! Now there is a racket ... 5 minutes of water cooler talk and take home $154. If they want everyone else to give then they should too. Reduce their pay to be equal to NJ, take away the per diem .... $5.9 million saved!
Janice Landrum March 30, 2011 at 12:55 PM
This is not true. I do not know of a single teachers' union which contributes to any school board candidate's campaign.
Bob Zahm March 30, 2011 at 05:01 PM
@Janice - You're kidding, right? Or are you saying that formally, you know of no teacher's union that's made a contribution? That may be technically correct. But what about the active support / encouragement from large groups of teachers for particular candidates? It happens. It's also reasonable as teachers (and their union) are affected by the outcome of school board elections.
Joe Basso April 06, 2011 at 09:26 PM
I guess he will want a raise next year!!!

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