Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Is Your School District Superintendent Getting A Raise?

The Buck Doesn't Always Stop With District Administration

We hear the outrage over teachers' salaries, the demands for raises on top of step increases, runaway pension costs, and so on down the line.

But, when it comes to cutting costs and saving tax dollars, have we taken a look upward, at school district administration?

While teachers in several Long Island school districts have agreed to forego or curtail raises in order to save jobs and shave budgets, a survey of proposed school budgets shows that many administrators -- including Superintendents, whose average salary on Long Island tops $250,000 -- are slated to get raises in the 2010-11 school year.

True, they may be contractually entitled to raises, but just because you are due a raise doesn't mean you have to take a raise, does it?

In these times of economic upheaval, when we are asking everyone down the line to bite the bullet, shouldn't school district administrators, in their leadership roles, do likewise?

And gee whiz. If a school supe can't survive on $250,000+ a year, where does that leave the rest of us?

Traditionally, we support school budgets across the board, encouraging residents to vote YES. Where district administrators seek to fatten their wallets, however, while lightening ours, well, that gives us pause for thought.

Is your school district superintendent getting a raise? Do you know what's in your school budget?

Most school budgets as proposed for the 2010-11 school year, on which you will be called upon to cast your yea or nay votes on May 18, are posted on the school districts' websites. Be sure to check it out!

What follows are some additional thoughts, flowing from a recent meeting of the Elmont East End Civic Association.

THOUGHT #1 --Transparency

There's a problem with school districts tapping into their cash reserves to mask the actual budget to budget increases. Here's something that came up at a recent Elmont East End Civic Meeting:

The Sewanhaka School District has 10.1 million dollars in cash reserves (that number was taken from the minutes of a recent Board of Education meeting, as can be found online). At the April civic meeting, the school superintendent made his presentation to the public where he complained about 3.3 million shortfall in state aid. When the presentation ended, the superintendent was asked the question why doesn't he tap into the 10.1 million account to make up the shortfall in state aid. He responded that they, in fact, were tapping into the reserves for the upcoming budget.

Another resident asked the follow-up question as to whether the 3.7% proposed budget increase reflected the use of the cash reserves. The superintendent stated that it did not, and that the actual increase in spending from the prior year is actually somewhere between 7% and 8%. The fireworks went off after that.

While few would take issue with the school districts using the cash reserves, they are not being transparent with the use of these funds, and not stating the actual budget to budget spending increase. The public should be made aware of what the actual "budget to budget" spending increases are before they vote. Moreover, the use of these cash reserves simply raises the bar for next year's budget and every year thereafter.

THOUGHT #2 -- What's Good for the Goose...

School superintendents and their staffs are charged with negotiating contracts with the teacher's unions. Most, if not all of our superintendents took raises this year. How can they expect the teachers to make concessions or even accept a pay freeze when the superintendents themselves have not done so. If we were the negotiators for the teacher's unions, we would come out in public and say as much, destroying any leverage -- let alone credibility -- the superintendents may have had given the current economic conditions.

In addition, what were our Boards of Education thinking agreeing to give these superintendents raises? In reality, the school hierarchy much like a corporation. The taxpayers are the shareholders, the superintendent is the CEO, the school board is similar to a Board of Directors, and the teacher's are the employees of the business. At the end of the day, the superintendent (CEO) works for the taxpayers (shareholders), and should make sure the taxpayers are getting a return on their investment. The teacher's (employees) have a union to represent their interests, we need the superintendent (CEO) and Board (of Directors) to represent ours. This leads to the next thought.

THOUGHT #3 -- Did Someone say "Consolidate?"

Whatever happened to Suozzi's "consolidate all the superintendents" idea. Although it was too little too late for him, the idea has merit. There's just way too much redundancy in the system which generates terrible waste and inequity. In NY City, there's a single bureaucracy charged with negotiating contracts with teachers, purchasing supplies, and all other administration matters. In Nassau, we have 55 bureaucracies that all do the same thing, and not all that well, let alone with efficiency. If we're going to have a bureaucracy not run well, and at such great cost to the taxpayers, it might as well be 1 instead of 55.

THOUGHT #4 -- It IS The Assessment!

It would seem, from all appearances, that the school budgets are being predicated upon "rosy" assessment numbers. In Elmont they're basing their budgets on an average assessment of $417K. This number doesn't appear accurate at all as, by dint of even a cursory review of the assessment rolls, the average assessed value of a home in Elmont is not $417K. in many instances, not even close. Moreover, as assessments continue to decline, or are "frozen" at current levels, as some of our elected officials propose, the schools will have to revise their numbers upward, and the actual increase in the tax levy will be larger, perhaps much larger, than that as currently advertised.

Each "thought" can find relevancy in every Long Island school district, as we crunch the numbers and, dare we say, look behind them.

What are your "thoughts?" Anything to add to our list?

We at The Community Alliance, as well as your friends, neighbors, and fellow taxpayers here on Long Island, would like to know.

Share your thouts with us, by way of comments to this post, e-mails to, and, yes, even guest blogposts, to be published right here for all -- including our school district superintendents -- to see.
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School Budgets and School Boards are on the line on Tuesday, May 18. Know before you vote!


  1. If Mangano wants a REAL tax revolt, why doesn't he propose to consolidate all the superintendents and their huge staffs in Nassau County?

    Most people are not aware of the shear number of people that make up these 50+ separate and distinct school district offices. All of this back office administration can and must be consolidated. None of this inefficiency provides our children with an ounce of a better education, and simply fills up the wallets of the superintendents and their huge staffs.

    For example, Bloomberg is in charge in the City, and by most accounts their schools have improved considerably under his watch. In fact, I have read that the City has closed the gap on achievement with Long Island schools, and, in as little as 5 years will have the same level of achievement. Their school system has 1 chancellor Joel Klein (remember him, he was the guy who brought an antitrust action against Microsoft and won) who runs a system for 1.1 million students and makes a fair salary of $250K per year. We have 50+ superintendents all making more than $250K per year for a system with only 209,000 students. Given those numbers, we all have to acknowledge there's something seriously wrong with our system. I've read that consolidation of the superintendents alone would save County taxpayers 30 million per year, not to mention the savings from the increased purchasing power.

    Mangano came into office trumpeting he would bring a tax revolt. Well, since the school tax makes up 65% of our property tax, this is where the revolt really needs to happen. Right now Mangano is focused on the pennies on the ground while the dollars are going right over his head.

  2. Our Mission Statement
    The Long Island Tea Party Coalition was founded in the winter of 2009 as a true grassroots organization. We are dedicated to the reduction of the tax burden on our community and are beholden to NO politicians or their parties. The Mission Statement of the Long Island Tea Party Coalition is as follows:

    I. Reduce Taxes
    Faced with yearly increases, Long Island residents already pay some of the highest taxes in the nation. We can not continue on this path and will work to alleviate this out-of-control burden.

    II. Elect Responsible Leaders
    As members of this tea party, we will rally behind ANY leader from ANY party who will reduce our tax burden and use their elected office to carry out their campaign promises of tax reduction. We will not re-elect leaders who do not carry out these promises.

    III. Re-empower Local School Boards
    We will work to bring the control of our school boards back to the locally elected school board members.

    We've begun accepting reservations for two upcoming rallies in Washington, DC. The August 28th Glenn Beck Restoring Honor rally, and the second September 12th March on Washington.

  3. A "Glenn Beck Restoring Honor" rally? Really? Surely, you jest....

    We're all for reducing taxes, downsizing government, electing responsible leaders, and re-empowering local school boards, but the means toward such ends must themselves be justified, tempered with reason, and, most certainly, responsible.

    Extremism, to the left or to the right, and methods of madness, ala Glenn Beck's delusionary vision of America, do not good government make.

  4. The Tea Party groups may have the right mission, but clearly, their message is way off base.

    Hate-mongering and inciteful speech, all wrapped up in the American flag, is not the revolutionary zeal we need in America today.

    Read Bill Clinton's Op-Ed piece in the NY Times at

  5. Some further perspective on the issue of salary freezes. Not that I think there's much of a chance that we'll see this happening on a wide scale anyhow, but the reality is that we're at the point where there has to be actual reductions in public employee labor and benefit costs at all levels of government, if this economy is going to get back on its feet. That's why, as noted above, consolidation is so critical.

    Meantime salary freezes merely preserve the current situation, and most taxpayers are already finding the burden unbearable. Since I've never been afraid to assert a "crazy" idea, what's needed at this point are actual salary and benefit ROLLBACKS among public employees, not just freezes.

    Bear in mind that even after the recession started in 2007, even after the financial system meltdown in 2008, even after millions of people in the private sector lost jobs, lost benefits, and lost homes, raises and benefit increases in the public sector just kept rolling along. The economic damage we've sustained is serious - it will take years to recover - and unless some kind of meaningful relief is delivered, New York's economy and certainly Long Island's economy will continue to be second-rate, and our children will continue to have limited opportunities. Getting our economy back to where it was even five years ago will never happen.

    If you think the notion of a salary rollback is insane, consider what's going on in Ireland right now. Just like here, Ireland had a boom ecomomy until about 2007 when they also experienced a real estate bust and a financial crisis. Unlike here, the Irish government is actually leading when it comes to addressing the cost of labor in the public sector.

    All nonmilitary government workers with annual salaries of $40,000 are seeing a 5% reduction in compensation; the next $54,000 will be reduced by 7.5%; and the next $74,000 go down 10%.

    Drastic? You bet, but imagine the shot in the arm our economy would get, and taxpayers would get, if we could unburden ourselves, just a little bit, from having to finance salary and benefit packages that are clearly over the top.

    Chances that something like this would happen? None - at least not when you consider the current clowns who are in charge. But this is an election year, and at this point it would be a mistake for any incumbent to underestimate just how much voter anger there is on this issue. Conversely, the candidate who can convince voters that they will take this issue on, will experience a groundswell of support that will simply overwhelm traditional political interest groups, even and especially politically-active public employee unions.

  6. The Town of Hempstead does not get a free pass here.

    Kate and company need to crack down on the illegal housing situation that's run amuck in the Town. Most, if not all of these properties are not paying their fair share of the tax burden, while sending more than their fair share of children to the public schools.

    Either these properties need to be taxed as multiple dwellings or the Town needs to get its act together and remove the illegal units.

    This problem has gone on for too long and only gotten worse over time. With over 1900 employees at her disposal, you would think Kate would have plenty of manpower to sniff out most of the illegal units. It's time for Kate to stop giving herself raises and start working on fixing this problem!

  7. As a follow-up, I just had a series of email exchanges with my district school superintendant. Subject was the status of contract negotiations with teachers in the district; the current contract expires at the end of June. I was told that nothing could be discussed about these negotiations at the present time - apparently the board and union have agreed to keep silent while negotiations are under way.

    So I then ask if the public will have any opportunity to review the terms of any negotiation before a contract is settled? Answer: there will be an opportunity to offer any comments at the school board meeting in which the contract will be signed. Huh?

    I also asked how the district could possibly be putting together a budget proposal for a district vote, if the single largest cost item -labor and benefits - is a theoretical unknown. Answer: they make "assumptions."

    Here's my cynical interpretation: the board and administration know exactly what will be in the contract, which will be telegraphed when the budget proposal comes out. And by the way, since by then they'll already be locked in when it comes to salary and benefits, we will once again hear the message that voting the budget down will lead to cuts in extracurricular activities and other student-centric elements of the budget - in other words, the LAST items that should be cut.

    As for the contract, it's as good as done, regardless of what anyone might say.

    Theoretically, the reason we have a gazillion school districts on Long Island is because we worship at the altar of "local control", but that's just a charade when you have a process like this one: completely devoid of transparency and lacking any kind of board-level commitment to meaningful community involvement.

    As far as I'm concerned, these guys should be thrown out on their ears - something I will express at a coming meeting. On the other hand, my experience tells me that no matter what I say, they'll simply offer me a patronizing smile in response and then do what they damn well please anyhow.