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.