School pay is too high

The high rate of pay to some CEOs is rightly questioned. How much should someone be paid? One answer is: whatever anyone is willing to pay them. Some countries, such as Germany, put a cap on the pay. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act requires the disclosure of CEO-to-worker pay. It is important to know, for example, that in 2010, Viacom CEO,  Philippe P. Dauman, received $84,515,308 in total compensation. By comparison, Dauman’s compensation was 2546 times the median worker’s pay at Viacom.

In theory, shareholders determine CEO pay in publicly traded companies. In theory, voters do the same with public school administrators. I have expressed my opinion by voting in every budget vote since I moved into my home, in 1969, and have voted to approve each one. Until last week, that is, when I didn’t vote at all.

In an article in Newsday the day after the budget was defeated last week, Westbury’s school superintendent said that she was perplexed by the outcome. The board, she said, tried to be “really sensitive to taxpayers.” I’m not perplexed. Just look at some of the figures from the district.

The proposed budget called for a 4.9% increase, which translates into an average school tax bill of $8,924, this in a district that is one of the poorest in the county and in a district with very little commercial property and therefore relying nearly exclusively on homeowner taxes.

How do you judge whether this is fair? One way is to compare it to others in comparable positions. It is hard to argue that it is harder to run Westbury’s schools, a small school district with one high school, than it is to run New York City’s schools. But this is the case. New York City pays its superintendent $250,000. Westbury pays its school CEO $365,403. (The US president makes less.) In addition to Westbury’s superintendant, three other administrators make more than the New York’s governor and one other is just about equal in pay. Eleven others make more than $150,000 per year.

The Westbury school employees may all be fine people and competent in their work, but there is a matter of fairness. My surprise isn’t that voters defeated the proposed budget. It is that the superintendent and school board members think that these salaries are appropriate.

Gov. Cuomo has proposed a cap on school superintendent salaries outside New York City at $179,000, equal to his own pay. This seems a sensible place to begin. It is also right that school employees begin to contribute to their health care policies and that the pensions be switched to something like 401K plans.

I am writing about Westbury because it is where I live. But the issues are the same across this and many other states. It is clear that many school districts are unable to respond to the demands for fairness, so it will have to be imposed from outside.

Gov. Cuomo’s proposal is a good place to begin.


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