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Long Islanders dominate state's top-earning retirees

Malverne Superintendent James Hunderfund (March 25, 2008)

Malverne Superintendent James Hunderfund (March 25, 2008) Credit: Howard Schnapp

There are a few new names on the list, but Long Islanders still dominate the public pensions sweepstakes - 14 of the state's top 20 pension recipients retired from Long Island school districts, according to state data.

Two years after Newsday reported on the generous pension benefits awarded to retired superintendents such as James Hunderfund - who receives the state's largest pension of $316,245 a year and who also is Malverne's current superintendent - records show that dozens of retired Long Island educators are collecting six-figure pensions.

Thirty-eight retired Long Islanders collect a maximum allowable retirement benefit of $150,000 or more, according to the data. The average pension of educators statewide is $38,489 a year.

The data, from the state Teachers Retirement System, were released this week by the Empire Center for New York State Policy, an Albany-based think tank.

Many retirees opt to collect the maximum amount, but some choose to take a smaller amount that includes a provision allowing a spouse to collect pension benefits in the event of death, said John Cardillo, TRS spokesman. The figures released this week reflect the maximum benefit to which a retiree is entitled.

Some recent retirees now in the top 20 include former Great Neck Superintendent Ronald L. Friedman, who is entitled to a maximum pension benefit of $267,132 a year, and former East Meadow Superintendent Leon Campo, who is entitled to $232,993, according to records.

Neither man could be reached for comment Thursday.

"Most of these people have worked for 40 years and have risen to the top of their profession, and that's what it's calculated to be," said Sayville Superintendent Rosemary Jones, who serves on the TRS board, adding, "This is what was promised to them."

"She's right, but the question is whether taxpayers can afford these promises to future generations of educators," said Lise Bang-Jensen, senior policy analyst for the Empire Center.

Hunderfund, whose five-year contract with Malverne stipulates that he cannot earn less than $225,000 a year, did not return a call for comment Thursday.

But Patrick Coonan, Malverne School Board president, said, "For my district, he's a bargain." He added, "I didn't set his pension."

Hunderfund retired from the Commack school district in August 2006. His pension is so high because, as a Tier 1 employee, he was able to include perks and benefits from his Commack contract in the calculations for his pension.

Public employees are grouped in tiers, based on the date they began work. Employees who are in later tiers have more limits on what they can include in pension calculations.

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