The High Price of School Superintendents

Share this Post

By: Daniel Branda, Program Director – Affordability
Additional reporting by Grayson Logue, New York Affordability Project Intern

Last week, The Journal News columnist David McKay Wilson examined school superintendent contracts throughout the Lower Hudson Valley. His findings might surprise you.

The superintendents Wilson reviewed are already earning more money than the Governor. One is even earning more than the President. And each contract carries perks you’d be hard-pressed to find in any other job—private or public sector—such as tax shelter retirement accounts in addition to the state’s defined-benefit pension; the ability to cash out sick days when you leave; the right to cash out vacation days each year; and, free health insurance for life.

Already this week, we have looked at two trends driving costs for school budgets:

  • Over the past five years, 93 percent of the money collected by schools from raising property taxes has found its way into reserve accounts, with no direct benefit to the classroom.
  • Although the rising cost of pensions are often cited as the cause for rising school property taxes, pension costs declined significantly over the last two years without a corresponding savings to taxpayers.

Superintendent pay in the Lower Hudson Valley does not seem to be connected to the size of the school district. Not only do superintendents for districts of less than 2,500 students earn double the national average for districts of similar size, but they earn more than their Lower Hudson Valley counterparts in districts of 2,500 to 10,000 students.

Payroll and contract decisions made at the school board level put an added burden on the taxpayers by building in long-term costs. School boards are negotiating against themselves, and the rising costs of current contracts set the floor for the next contract.

The same goes for teacher contracts and administrative contracts, which are also negotiated by the school board.

For the most part, these contracts are negotiated without enough public scrutiny. However, when the press or the public does bring pressure, they usually get results.

As part of his series, Wilson brought attention to the Brewster Schools superintendent, who received thousands for extra vacation days without prior authorization by the school board. She did so after private discussions with some members of the school board. The Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations approved payment for the extra days, but the move was not publicly approved by the board as required by law.

While the superintendent cashes in days that she was supposed to take as vacation, jobs were being cut from the district. After Wilson brought attention to the unauthorized payment, the board voted to retroactively approve the extra days. In the same meeting, the board voted to cut 13 school jobs in the upcoming budget.

This did not sit well with parents, who forced the superintendent and other top administrators to forego cashing in 10 vacation days in 2018-19 while upping their contribution to their health insurance premiums by 3 percentage points and freezing their salaries for a year.

Whether its sky-high superintendent pay and perks or unspent reserve funds while teaching jobs are cut and property taxes are raised, it’s vital for property taxpayers to understand how school districts are spending our money and to demand unreasonable policies change.