Raise for LI's top-paid schools chief

Syosset schools Superintendant Carole Hankin, seen at a Syosset schools Superintendant Carole Hankin, seen at a June 6 school board meeting, is the highest paid superintendent in New York State. Photo Credit: Jason Andrew, 2011

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Long Island's highest-paid schools chief -- whose salary Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo cited as an example of wasteful school spending -- got a 4.7 percent raise to $405,244 in base salary before the start of this school year.

Syosset Superintendent Carole Hankin's $18,376 raise, approved last June, was not widely known until it appeared recently on the state Education Department's website, prompting some residents to complain they were misled.

The increase means Hankin's salary is $190,000 more than that paid the New York City schools chancellor. Her total compensation of $541,454, which includes annuity premiums and other benefits, is the state's highest by far. Under her contract, Hankin's salary is negotiated annually.

Hankin has defenders in the 6,600-student district, though in February the governor cited her salary as part of his push for statewide cuts in education aid.

But the $386,868 salary figure cited by Cuomo was a year out of date. After the higher figure appeared on the Education Department's website a few weeks ago, some Syosset residents questioned why the school district didn't taken steps in February to set the record straight.

"Why this was never clarified is beyond me," said Peter Ennis, a father of two recent Syosset High School graduates as he faced the board Monday night. "In this time of very close budgets, I think all this has to be out in the open."

Islandwide, the hefty raises granted top school administrators earlier in the decade appear to be a thing of the past. A Newsday review of the latest state data finds that average superintendents' salaries are due to fall slightly on average during the next school year, in contrast to a 1.48 percent rise this year and a 4.58 percent increase in the 2008-09 school year.

Education experts attribute the trend to a combination of factors, including economic pressures, retirements and a desire on the part of superintendents to set an example for other school employees asked to take pay freezes. Year-to-year comparisons are only estimates, due to differences among district timetables -- including Syosset -- for reporting salary figures.

Hankin, now in her 21st year as superintendent, told Newsday Monday that she has learned not to pay too much attention to critics. Hence, she said, her decision not to respond directly to Cuomo.

She said this year's pay raise was not approved by the school board until last June -- a common practice among districts and too late to meet the state's deadline for the May posting on its official website. She said she and other district employees will take total or partial pay freezes next year.

The superintendent described her successes in managing Syosset's finances and maintaining its high academic reputation. Last month, Syosset High School was ranked seventh on the Island and 120th nationwide in an academic survey conducted by The Washington Post.

"When I walk anyplace, go anywhere, I'm being evaluated," Hankin told a small audience Monday night. "The PTA over there is tough, the kids are tough."

Many Syosset parents agree. "She's brought so much good to the district," said Susan Parker, the PTA council president. "It's a well-oiled machine, and that doesn't just happen."

Other residents such as Harvey Bimberg, a retired teacher from another district, think Hankin's well-publicized salary has brought unwelcome notoriety. "She's the poster boy, or poster girl," he said.
 

 

Superintendents' salaries slide

 

Long Island superintendents' salaries for next school year are showing a slight decline on average. Here are yearly percentage increases or decreases since the 2006-07 school year.

The percentages are approximations because not all districts report salary figures to the state Department of Education on the same timetable.

2007-08: +4.59%

2008-09: +4.58%

2009-10: +3.41%

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2010-11: +1.48%

2011-12: -0.50%

Source: New York State Department of Education

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