Eighteen of the state's 20 top-paid school administrators worked on Long Island, according to a new study of 2007-08 data by a conservative Albany think tank that questions why many suburban superintendents earn more than New York's new education commissioner.
Big packages reported in Thursday's study included $399,917 for the chief operating officer of the regional Eastern Suffolk BOCES, and $428,777 and $339,305, respectively, for superintendents of the Syosset and Commack districts. Total annual compensation for a retiring Locust Valley superintendent topped $570,000, once he cashed in unused sick and vacation days, the study found.
"If people on the Island wonder why taxes are high, this is one of the reasons," said Lise Bang-Jensen, senior policy analyst at The Empire Center for New York State Policy, which conducted the study.
The eye-popping figures include base salaries and extra compensation, such as retirement payouts, life insurance and deferred annuities. Figures were for the 2007-08 school year, and were obtained from the State Teachers Retirement System.
Bang-Jensen noted that the state's new education commissioner, David Steiner, earns $250,000 a year. So does Joel Klein, chancellor of New York City's million-student system. That's less than the salaries currently paid to superintendents in 10 Island districts listed by the study, even though none of those districts enroll more than 8,000.
Local school officials acknowledge that compensation is relatively high here. They contend, however, that such remuneration is justified in a region that prides itself on the quality of its schools and the experience of its educators.
"We also have the highest cost of living in the state," said Sheldon Karnilow, superintendent in the Half Hollow Hills district. "We also have the highest quality schools."
The study lists packages of more than $300,000 each for three Half Hollow Hills administrators including Karnilow - the largest number for any district. Karnilow said the packages included retirement payouts of about $100,000 apiece for the other two officials.
"I've been in Oceanside 27 years as superintendent or assistant superintendent. . . . I've worked hard on behalf of our children every day," said Herb Brown, the current schools chief there. His compensation is listed at $313,400.
Some said the report was misleading, because it included unusual one-year spikes in compensation. Lou DeAngelo, now superintendent in East Meadow, was an assistant superintendent when his compensation was listed as $323,054.
DeAngelo said his base salary was $160,000 that year, and that most of the remainder was a payout for unused sick and vacation days. He added that his current package consists of a $205,000 salary and $9,000 annuity.
Gary Bixhorn, superintendent of Eastern Suffolk BOCES, said his package also included a "sell back" of unused sick and vacation time. He added that his base salary of $249,100 was "very much in line with superintendents of large school districts."
Henry Grishman, the Jericho superintendent, whose package is listed at $331,834, said many figures were "the same as if you were to cash out your 401(k) on the day you retired, and the newspaper added together your salary and your 401(k) balance and called it your annual compensation."