BUFFALO, NY (WKBW/BUSINESS FIRST) -- The Sweet Home Central School District is on the hunt for a new superintendent, and Carol Nowak is of two minds about the process.
Nowak, the president of Sweet Home's school board, is seeking a highly qualified replacement for Geoffrey Hicks, who recently left for a new position in the Hudson Valley. But she's also eager to strike the best financial deal for her district.
"Containing costs is critical. It's always a concern," she says. "How do you balance hiring the right person for the job with your responsibility to the taxpayers? That's the big question that everyone faces."
It's an especially important question this year, considering the twin
threats of state-aid reductions and an economic recession that has pushed local unemployment to the highest levels in more than a decade.
But it won't be easy for Sweet Home -- or any other district seeking a new chief executive -- to contain costs. The median pay for Western New York school superintendents has soared 55 percent since 1998, easily outstripping the inflation rate of 34 percent for the same 12-year period, according to a new analysis by Business First.
The typical superintendent in the eight-county region was paid $88,750 a dozen years ago, based on salary allocations reported by Western New York's 98 school districts to the New York State Education Department. The median salary for that same group shot up to $137,917 by 2010. (A median is a midpoint, with half of all officials earning more and half earning less.)
The breakdown of superintendents' salaries was part of a broader Business First study of pay levels at local public schools. These are among the other findings:
€ A total of 546 administrators and teachers in the 98 districts were paid $100,000 or more during the 2008-2009 academic year. The largest number (75) worked for the region's largest district, Buffalo.
€ Another 4,663 employees of public school districts earned between $75,000 and $99,999 a year ago.
€ Sweet Home pays the highest salaries for teachers in Western New York, as indicated by Business First's analysis of pay levels at five different points in the typical teacher's career. Williamsville and Niagara Falls arethe runners-up.
Full details will be available in Business First's 2010-2011 Guide to
Western New York Schools, which hits newsstands Friday. Highlights -- including a database with all district salaries of $50,000 or more -- are
also available at the newspaper's website: buffalo.bizjournals.com.
It's the superintendents who garner the most attention, both because of
their high profiles within their communities and because their paychecks are the largest within their districts.
Thirteen school systems registered increases of 80 percent or more in their superintendents' salaries between 1998 and 2010, as determined by Business First's comparison of budget allocations for the two years. The largest jump was 107 percent in Starpoint, from $85,576 a dozen years ago to $177,143 currently.
The next largest rises were 94 percent in Ripley, 91 percent in
Niagara-Wheatfield and Andover, and 88 percent in Royalton-Hartland. The smallest increases from 1998 to 2010 were 16 percent in Franklinville, 24 percent in Wyoming and 27 percent in Portville.
Six-figure salaries, which were relatively rare 12 years ago, are now par for the course among superintendents.
Just 19 Western New York districts paid their top executives $100,000 or more in 1998, compared to 95 districts this year. The only superintendents in the region who are currently below $100,000 are those who run the West Valley ($95,910), Wyoming ($96,383) and Belfast ($97,862) systems, according to allocations in those districts' 2009-2010 budgets.
At the opposite end of the scale are the three Western New York
superintendents who are paid more than $200,000 annually: James Williams of Buffalo ($220,000), Howard Smith of Williamsville ($216,500) and Thomas Coseo of Clarence ($205,000).
Hicks, who departed Sweet Home to become the new head of the Arlington Central School District near Poughkeepsie, was 16th on the regional list when he left. He was budgeted to receive $162,000 this year, up 41 percent from the $115,000 that his Sweet Home predecessor, Gary Cooper, earned in 1998. (Hicks' actual compensation, taking all forms of income into account, was slightly higher. It was reported as $173,948 a year ago.)
There are two ways to view the salary levels of local school
superintendents, in the opinion of Donald Ogilvie, district superintendent
of Erie 1 BOCES, which provides a variety of instructional, managerial and technology services to school districts in Erie County.
Ogilvie is often asked to assist districts in their searches for new
superintendents, and he admits that the resulting salaries "are viewed by some as hefty for the public sector."
But he notes, on the other hand, that superintendents are well behind the pay scale for the private sector.
"The level of responsibility for a school superintendent is at a level with,
and in many respects exceeds, that of a similar job at a comparably sized private organization," he says. "Yet the pay is nowhere similar."
The observation is borne out by a random comparison of figures filed with the New York State Education Department and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Business First matched the Williamsville Central School District with a
local company that has a similar financial profile. Williamsville's
expenditures totaled $146.64 million in 2008, the latest year for which
state-audited figures are available. That was almost identical to the $147 million in revenues reported in 2009 by Ecology & Environment Inc. of Lancaster.
Williamsville's superintendent, Howard Smith, is paid $216,500 per year, as noted above. That's approximately half the total compensation of $421,090 for E&E's chairman, Gerhard Neumaier, in 2009. Two of the company's executive vice presidents, Gerald Strobel and Frank Silvestro, were paid $392,292 and $391,882, respectively.
Sweet Home and other districts seeking new superintendents won't have to worry about matching the private sector's pay scale, but they are likely to see a continuation of upward financial pressure.
There is a shortage of experienced superintendents on the market, says Ogilvie, a factor that forces salaries higher, even though the economy is shaky.
"Boards of education realize that they can't even get people to look at
their jobs unless they offer a believable (salary) range," he says. "And
that's usually from slightly below what the current superintendent is
making, up to what comparably sized districts are paying."
Superintendents aren't the only employees of Western New York school districts who receive annual pay in the six figures.
Business First has compiled a list of 546 administrators and teachers whose total compensation was in the $100,000-plus range in the 2008-2009 academic year. The full list, broken down by districts, can be found on Business First's website.
It's worth noting that employees are not listed with job titles, and that
some of them may have shifted from one district to another during the past year, or may have retired. And it's important to be aware that the list is confined to cash compensation, and does not account for the cost of pensions, health insurance or other benefits.
The raw data came from SeeThrough New York, a comprehensive Web site that specializes in facts and figures about state and local governments. It can be accessed at http://seethroughny.net.
It comes as no surprise that Buffalo, which is easily the biggest school
district in the region, also has the biggest number of six-figure salaries,
Eleven other school systems in Western New York had at least 10 employees making $100,000 or more last year: Williamsville (37), Niagara Falls (33), Kenmore-Tonawanda (29), Lackawanna (19), West Seneca (17), Clarence (16), Orchard Park (16), Sweet Home (16), Evans-Brant (14), Hamburg (13) and Grand Island (10).
Another 4,663 employees of the region's public school districts had annual pay between $75,000 and $99,999 -- and 10,118 were between $50,000 and $74,999.
A complete database of all administrators, teachers and counselors who made at least $50,000 in the 2008-2009 academic year can be found on Business First's website. The address is http://tinyurl.com/wnyschoolpay.
Business First analyzed salaries at five key points in a typical teacher's
career, and used that information to rate the pay scales at all 98 Western New York districts. Comparisons were made at the fifth, 25th, 50th, 75th and 95th percentiles, based on data compiled by the New York State Education Department.
Percentiles indicate where a given paycheck ranks within a single district. A salary in the 25th percentile, for example, is bigger than 25 percent -- and smaller than the other 75 percent -- of all teachers' salaries in that specific district.
Sweet Home ranks No. 1 in the teacher pay index. It was among the eight top-paying districts at all five percentiles, highlighted by a No. 1 rating at the 95th percentile. Sweet Home paid $92,756 to teachers at that level in 2008-2009. Only three other districts were above $90,000.
Rounding out the top five in the teacher pay ratings are Williamsville,
Niagara Falls, Lackawanna and Grand Island.
Canaseraga ranks at the bottom of the regional list in terms of teacher pay. Its salary at the 95th percentile, for example, was $67,174 a year ago, falling nearly 28 percent below the comparable figure for Sweet Home.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
BUSINESS FIRST'S RANKINGS OF TEACHER PAY
(EACH DISTRICT IS FOLLOWED BY MEDIAN AND PEAK SALARIES; SEE NOTES AT END)
1. Sweet Home (median: $62,074, peak: $92,756)
2. Williamsville (median: $67,250, peak: $87,340)
3. Niagara Falls (median: $59,249, peak: $86,298)
4. Lackawanna (median: $60,351, peak: $91,427)
5. Grand Island (median: $62,185, peak: $92,717)
6. North Tonawanda (median: $62,049, peak: $83,375)
7. Orchard Park (median: $60,160, peak: $87,460)
8. Kenmore-Tonawanda (median: $60,686, peak: $86,988)
9. Cheektowaga-Sloan (median: $60,172, peak: $88,676)
10. West Seneca (median: $54,353, peak: $83,243)
11. Niagara-Wheatfield (median: $57,026, peak: $85,238)
12. Akron (median: $51,470, peak: $86,300)
13. Lewiston-Porter (median: $58,397, peak: $78,732)
14. Yorkshire-Pioneer (median: $58,147, peak: $85,718)
15. Evans-Brant (median: $54,834, peak: $86,574)
16. Ellicottville (median: $52,687, peak: $78,440)
17. Lockport (median: $54,769, peak: $81,257)
18. Cassadaga Valley (median: $52,132, peak: $84,453)
19. Barker (median: $53,584, peak: $86,367)
20. Fredonia (median: $52,362, peak: $80,975)
21. Wilson (median: $52,822, peak: $86,624)
22. Westfield (median: $60,286, peak: $77,195)
23. Clarence (median: $53,390, peak: $86,209)
24. Cheektowaga-Maryvale (median: $55,047, peak: $89,322)
25. Newfane (median: $49,950, peak: $85,358)
26. Albion (median: $49,169, peak: $84,380)
27. Starpoint (median: $51,473, peak: $84,946)
28. Gowanda (median: $47,710, peak: $83,069)
29. Royalton-Hartland (median: $50,942, peak: $79,956)
30. Depew (median: $46,486, peak: $91,046)
31. Panama (median: $50,682, peak: $78,393)
32. Amherst (median: $51,890, peak: $86,058)
33. Olean (median: $51,530, peak: $73,084)
34. Bemus Point (median: $49,075, peak: $77,392)
35. Holley (median: $49,721, peak: $85,482)
36. Medina (median: $49,020, peak: $79,731)
37. Sherman (median: $50,657, peak: $78,746)
38. Eden (median: $48,375, peak: $81,254)
39. Franklinville (median: $50,560, peak: $75,863)
40. Springville-Griffith Institute (median: $49,582, peak: $83,562)
41. Alden (median: $51,229, peak: $79,650)
42. Batavia (median: $50,763, peak: $78,353)
43. Frontier (median: $48,495, peak: $84,296)
44. Jamestown (median: $50,081, peak: $75,797)
45. Dunkirk (median: $46,030, peak: $78,582)
46. North Collins (median: $50,561, peak: $76,991)
47. Brocton (median: $49,322, peak: $77,699)
48. Allegany-Limestone (median: $51,630, peak: $76,498)
49. East Aurora (median: $47,325, peak: $81,700)
50. Wellsville (median: $46,024, peak: $79,874)
51. Iroquois (median: $48,900, peak: $86,250)
52. Holland (median: $47,485, peak: $81,000)
53. Forestville (median: $49,953, peak: $74,977)
54. Cheektowaga (median: $46,865, peak: $85,015)
55. Southwestern (median: $51,080, peak: $70,414)
56. Salamanca (median: $50,215, peak: $74,561)
57. Alexander (median: $47,680, peak: $76,914)
58. Hamburg (median: $47,365, peak: $82,850)
59. Cuba-Rushford (median: $49,263, peak: $78,775)
60. Portville (median: $47,433, peak: $72,541)
61. Pembroke (median: $45,900, peak: $80,495)
62. Ripley (median: $46,979, peak: $77,916)
63. West Valley (median: $47,780, peak: $74,583)
64. Chautauqua Lake (median: $52,694, peak: $74,726)
65. Clymer (median: $50,213, peak: $72,529)
66. Andover (median: $45,268, peak: $71,806)
67. Oakfield-Alabama (median: $46,310, peak: $81,224)
68. Lyndonville (median: $48,804, peak: $72,844)
69. Friendship (median: $50,000, peak: $75,238)
70. Byron-Bergen (median: $45,600, peak: $77,693)
71. Tonawanda (median: $49,830, peak: $76,328)
72. Bolivar-Richburg (median: $48,148, peak: $72,991)
73. Perry (median: $50,068, peak: $77,337)
74. Buffalo (median: $49,067, peak: $71,728)
75. Randolph (median: $44,224, peak: $78,268)
76. Lancaster (median: $46,700, peak: $82,150)
77. Whitesville (median: $49,669, peak: $76,073)
78. Silver Creek (median: $47,064, peak: $73,964)
79. Cleveland Hill (median: $45,868, peak: $78,881)
80. Pavilion (median: $43,880, peak: $80,692)
81. Kendall (median: $45,457, peak: $78,022)
82. Scio (median: $45,854, peak: $73,994)
83. Cattaraugus-Little Valley (median: $44,711, peak: $69,420)
84. LeRoy (median: $43,000, peak: $75,400)
85. Alfred-Almond (median: $46,848, peak: $64,750)
86. Falconer (median: $43,874, peak: $72,988)
87. Attica (median: $42,840, peak: $70,989)
88. Elba (median: $43,517, peak: $76,109)
89. Frewsburg (median: $44,321, peak: $69,463)
90. Belfast (median: $44,269, peak: $68,044)
91. Pine Valley (median: $44,278, peak: $70,786)
92. Hinsdale (median: $46,280, peak: $62,876)
93. Letchworth (median: $45,403, peak: $72,155)
94. Warsaw (median: $42,345, peak: $75,628)
95. Fillmore (median: $44,784, peak: $63,917)
96. Genesee Valley (median: $43,283, peak: $69,861)
97. Wyoming (median: $44,168, peak: $62,580)
98. Canaseraga (median: $41,765, peak: $67,174)
NOTES: Each district was rated according to the pay levels at five different
points: the fifth, 25th, 50th, 75th and 95th percentiles. (Percentiles
indicate the ranking of a given salary in a given district. A salary in the
25th percentile, for example, is larger than 25 percent of all teachers'
salaries in the district.) The best scores go to districts with the highest
salaries at all five points. Districts are listed above with their median
(50th percentile) and peak (95th percentile) salaries.