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Audit: Comsewogue superintendent got $739,000 golden parachute

A former Comsewogue school superintendent collected an unusual $739,000 "golden parachute" when he retired in 2006, according to state auditors who reported that this boosted the administrator's annual pension nearly $100,000 beyond what he was paid while working.

In an audit report released Thursday, the state comptroller's office said that an unusually favorable contract awarded Superintendent Richard Brande, an educator with more than 35 years' experience, allowed him to cash in unused vacation and sick days at daily rates of $1,304 and $2,784, respectively, when he retired.

Auditors added that Brande would have collected $956 per day, had his contract followed guidelines used in five other Suffolk County school districts of comparable or larger size. Comsewogue serves 4,000 students in the Port Jefferson Station community.

"These taxpayers shouldn't have to foot the bill to provide a $739,000 golden parachute," said State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

Across Long Island, administrators in other districts privately voiced concerns Thursday that auditors' revelations might create a political backlash against school compensation. The New York State Council of School Superintendents denounced what it termed Brande's "excessive payment," while noting that changes imposed years ago on the state pension system ban many such benefits for educators hired after June 1971. Brande started work as a teacher before that date.

When he retired in August 2006, Brande also received a cash payment of $244,000 - equal to the purchase price of contractual life insurance.

The cash windfalls then were included in calculations of Brande's state pension, which worked out to about $290,700 per year, auditors reported. In contrast, when last employed, the superintendent was paid a $191,140 base salary, plus $41,200 in extra perks.

Brande, who is 62 years old and still retired, did not return Newsday's call to his Aquebogue home. Bill Hinrichs, president of Comsewogue's school board, praised Brande in a phone interview Thursday for his work in expanding advanced placement and music programs during 12 years as superintendent.

Hinrichs, who joined the board in 2005, added that his district no longer grants contract terms as generous as those given Brande. The board president described Brande's perks as holdovers from prior agreements.

"If we'd have tried to take that contract away from him, he would have said, 'I'll retire right now,' " Hinrichs said.

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