13 districts boost supers' pay by 80%

September 27, 2013 Updated Jun 7, 2010 at 5:53 AM EDT

By Business First of Buffalo - by G. Scott Thomas

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13 districts boost supers' pay by 80%

September 27, 2013 Updated Jun 7, 2010 at 5:53 AM EDT

Superintendents garner the most attention when school salaries are the topic, 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).

Geoffrey 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."

Go to buffalo.bizjournals.com for further results from Business First's study of salary levels at Western New York's public schools.