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Cuomo: Cap superintendent salaries

Gov. Andrew Cuomo presents his budget message at

Gov. Andrew Cuomo presents his budget message at St. Joseph's College's McGann Conference Center. (Feb. 23, 2011) Credit: Charles Eckert

ALBANY - Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Monday that he'll propose a new bill to cap the pay of school superintendents around the state at a maximum of $175,000, including at least 107 on Long Island who make more than that.

Cuomo's announcement comes just a month after he publicly derided superintendent salaries and questioned why so many earned more than he did. It drew swift criticism from superintendents, who say such a cap would hamper efforts to attract and retain quality candidates.

Under the measure, superintendents would be paid on a sliding scale based on student enrollment. Even at the largest school districts (defined as those with more than 6,500 students), salaries would be capped at $175,000 - $4,000 less than the governor. All told, 319 superintendents statewide would be affected by the change proposed by the governor. The superintendent pay cap would save about $15 million, Cuomo said.

Cuomo said 209 superintendents statewide earn more than $175,000. On Long Island, the highest salary went to Syosset Superintendent Carole Hankin, who earns $386,868. She could not be reached for comment.

"We must wake up to the new economic reality that government must be more efficient and cut the cost of the bureaucracy," Cuomo said in a statement. "We must streamline government because raising taxes is not an option. "

It was just the latest in a number of swipes the Democrat has taken at what he's called unsustainable school-aid increases.

But Anthony Annunziato, the Bayport-Blue Point superintendent who leads the Suffolk County School Superintendent Association, said Long Island superintendents would leave the state en masse once their contracts expire if such a cap is enacted.

"Absolutely, we will leave," said Annunziato, who is paid $242,550. "I can tell you personally that would be what I would look to do." He said there is already a dearth of superintendent candidates on Long Island and a cap would further diminish the field.

Under the scale the governor proposed, superintendents at districts with 250 or fewer students would earn the least, $125,000, while superintendents at districts with more than 6,500 students would earn $175,000.

Cuomo has called for reducing aid to schools by $1.5 billion, or about 7 percent, in his 2011-12 proposed budget. During his budget address last month, he highlighted superintendents' pay as a reason why state spending hasn't kept up with revenue, generating a $10-billion deficit.

"I understand that they sometimes have to manage budgets, and sometimes the budgets are difficult," Cuomo said during his speech. "But why they get paid more than the governor of the state I really don't understand."

The head of the Senate Education Committee agreed.

"In my estimation, the highest-paid person in government should be the governor," said Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), adding, "everything should be on the table" as the state grapples with the deficit.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) was noncommital, saying he'd have to study Cuomo's proposal. The powerful Democrat also said he was looking to make "restorations" to the overall budget cuts Cuomo has outlined, including "key areas" such as education.

Superintendents say they have been unfairly singled out.

"It's bad public policy," said Robert Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. "This is a time when schools need strong leaders. The governor wants superintendents to do a number of things . . . renegotiate teacher contracts, consider consolidations and shared services. If you cap superintendent salaries, it's going to be harder to get people to take these jobs."

Jay L.T. Breakstone, the president of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association, said local school boards should be the exclusive arbiters of what superintendents and other school employees are paid.

"Whenever somebody, anybody, tries to take away the power of the community to govern its schools, that's antithetical to the way we believe," said Breakstone, also the president of the Bellmore school board.

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