Long Island has many top paid school managers

| john.hildebrand@newsday.com

Long Island is home to one of the heaviest concentrations of highly paid school administrators in the state: more than 2,000 superintendents, deputies, associates, assistants and other managers earning more than $153,000 in average salaries and benefits.


This concentration represents 52 percent of the 4,014 highly compensated administrators in the state's nonurban school districts, even though the Island enrolls only 29 percent of students in nonurban districts. Figures are from state Education Department records listing all school administrators earning $110,000 and up in nonurban districts.


Included on the list are 11 local school superintendents whose salaries all top the $250,000 a year paid to New York City schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who runs a system of 975,000 students.


In contrast, none of the Island's 11 highest-paid superintendents is responsible for more than 11,000 students. Klein's system is one of five urban districts excluded from the state's salary list.

hough concentrated in a small geographic area, the Island's school administrations are divided organizationally into 124 independent districts out of nearly 700 statewide -- a form of suburban Balkanization that is attracting increased scrutiny from elected officials.


Three weeks ago, a Suffolk Legislature commission called for a more streamlined approach to school management to eliminate what it called "the plethora of duplicative, often costly positions."


A week later, Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi advocated a countywide "office of shared school services," with an eye toward saving money and curbing property taxes through economies of scale.


Excessive, or appropriate?


In defending current administrative costs, Island school officials note that their districts rank among the highest achieving in the United States, that regional living costs are high, and that their salaries are proportionate to those of local teachers who also are among the nation's best paid.


"There's a lot of responsibility that comes with running schools," said James Parla, Island Trees superintendent and the president of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents, who added that his colleagues face increasing requirements in the form of state and federal testing standards. "The job's a lot more challenging now."


Even so, growing concentrations of school administrators are drawing the ire of local taxpayers, as well as their elected representatives.


"You know, it's ridiculous!" said Gary Besemer, a Brightwaters resident and retired postal worker who began checking administrative rolls in his own Bay Shore school district, after his property taxes had risen to what he considered an uncomfortable level.


State records show that Bay Shore is among the best-staffed districts in western Suffolk County in terms of the ratio of students to administrators. The 5,702-student district employs 33 highly compensated managers, including Superintendent Evelyn Blose Holman, whose listed salary of $275,500 is the Island's fifth highest.


Many administrators


Also included are an assistant to the superintendent, an executive director, two assistant superintendents, seven principals, seven assistant principals and 10 directors.


"What do all these administrators do?" Besemer asked, echoing a question often raised by other members of Long Islanders for Educational Reform, a regional taxpayer group where he is active. "It's insanity!"


Holman did not respond to Newsday's request for comment.


A Newsday analysis finds that the Island's educational system is marred by growing administrative overhead and considerable duplication of effort.


Some examples:


Across the Island, school administrative staffs have grown steadily over the past five years in proportion to the number of students enrolled. Last school year, the latest for which data is available, the regional ratio was one administrator for every 169 students, compared with one administrator for every 189 students in 2002-03. Regional enrollments leveled off during this period.


A total of 113 officials were engaged in school business management last year on the Island, with responsibility for $8.6 billion in spending. Meanwhile, New York City's school system made do with roughly the same number of business officials -- 116 -- while spending $17 billion, nearly twice as much.


Contrasts were even starker in terms of the number of school officials assigned to managing state and federal financial aid. Forty-six administrators were listed as working in this field on the Island, which receives about $2.9 billion in state and federal dollars. Meanwhile, New York City assigned 37 administrators to this field, with responsibility for $8.8 billion.


In other areas of school management, too, relatively large numbers of highly paid administrators work in the Island's district offices. Island schools employ 26 percent of all deputy and associate school superintendents working statewide, and nearly 33 percent of all assistant superintendents, while enrolling only 17 percent of students. Figures are for both urban and nonurban schools.


School representatives insist, however, that they already have done much on their own to achieve economies of scale. They point to the fact that most districts obtain certain back-office services such as payroll through regional BOCES agencies, while also purchasing goods and services at low-bid prices from state-approved vendors.


Moreover, Parla and other regional school leaders have expressed their willingness to cooperate with Suozzi in looking for further ways to consolidate business operations. Many, indeed, say they see potential for substantial savings in such areas as auditing, bus transportation, legal services and high-volume printing.


William Johnson, superintendent of Rockville Centre schools and a former president of the State Council of School Superintendents, said he is now discussing the possibility of joint printing operations with five other districts and would welcome Nassau County's help on other cooperative ventures. "If the county can do some of this, we should jump at the opportunity," he said. 


Staff writer Michael R. Ebert contributed to this story.

 On Long Island, there are 124 school districts, requiring more superintendents (and more salaries) to oversee a student body that is smaller than that of New York City.

NUMBER OF STUDENTS… Long Island 465,000 … New York City 970,000

 SCHOOLS CHIEF SALARIES … New York City $250,000 (1 schools chancellor) Long Island $24,699,978* (121 superintendents)
 On LI, there are 11 school chiefs who make more than the NYC chancellor
 Warren A. Meierdiercks,                    Sewanhaka ,                        $260,000,
Les M. Omotani,                                  Hewlett-Woodmere,            $266,500
Sheldon Karnilow,                               Half Hollow Hills,                 $267,030
Marc F. Bernstein,                              
Valley Stream CHS,            $267,500
Evelyn Blose Holman,                        
Bay Shore,                            $275,591
William H. Johnson,                           
Commack                             $313,127
Carole G. Hankin,                                Syosset,                                 $328,683
Ronald L. Friedmanaying,                 Great Neck,                          $289,167
 For administration salaries over 110,000

 On Long Island, there are 124 school districts, requiring more superintendents (and more salaries) to oversee a student body that is smaller than that of New York City.

 NUMBER OF STUDENTS,  Long Island 465,000 … New York City 970,000

SCHOOLS CHIEF SALARIES… Long Island $24,699,978* (121 superintendents) …New York City $250,000 (1 schools chancellor)

 Administrators with salaries over $110,000… Total, New York State 4,014 … Long Island 51.8% … Rest of the state 48.2%

 Figures for Wyandanch, Montauk And New Suffolk Not Available