When you open your property tax bills this year, try not to think about the former Brookhaven-Comsewogue superintendent, Richard Brande, who was able to achieve a pension benefit of $290,700 annually. His last paycheck in 2006 reflected $191,140 in base salary. How can the pension be more? Don't think about it if you can't handle the agita.

Brande was allowed to use $495,000 in unused sick and vacation leave when calculating his pension. The State Legislature outlawed that practice beginning in 1971, but the people hired before then, like Brande, are still entitled to the benefit. The pension system has never been amended for police or firefighters, who can also include overtime in their calculations.

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But most educators hired before 1971 are now retired. Our current cost-consciousness is better placed on how school leaders are compensated today. Long Islanders hand out 18 of the state's top 20 superintendent paychecks. Those paychecks don't seem to be tied to performance. The top earner is in Locust Valley, which of the 18 scored 11th in English and 13th in math.

No, these salaries are set by school boards that often have little expertise but feel pressured to match the salaries of neighboring districts - a vicious cycle. Board members often come from the teaching or PTA ranks, and are naturally sympathetic to superintendents. But these high salaries can do real damage if Long Island's image becomes so deluxe that our Albany representatives can't argue effectively for state tax dollars. hN