Top school incomes above medians
School administrators ranging from superintendents to building principals top the list of the highest-paid district officials in 2013 in Fulton, Montgomery and southern Hamilton counties.
While the pay of each official varies from one district to the next, all of the top-tier employees earned more than the average per capita and median household incomes for 2012 within the three-county area, according to census data.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in Fulton County in 2012 was $45,333 and the per-capita income of people living in the county was $23,527. In Montgomery County, the median household income in 2012 was $42,830, while the per-capita income was $22,936. Hamilton County had a median household income of $51,595, and the per-capita income was $28,935 in 2012.
The state’s median household income level is $57,683.
According to numbers obtained via a Freedom of Information Law request, the highest-paid administrators in the three-county region were Fort Plain Superintendent Douglas Burton at $150,012, Fonda Fultonville Interim Superintendent Ray Colucciello at $137,500 and Amsterdam Superintendent Thomas Perillo at $137,272.
“Doug Burton is one of our senior guys within the region; he has been at Fort Plain for over a decade,” Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Patrick Michel said.
Burton said he has been at the Fort Plain District for 13 years, and has 35 years of educational experience throughout the state.
During his time at Fort Plain, Burton said, he and the district have expanded the half-day pre-kindergarten programs from one to three sessions. He said they also have brought the school into the technological age, considering no teachers had computers when he arrived and now every classroom is equipped with them, along with SMART Boards, or interactive white boards.
He also noted for the fourth time in his career, he has agreed to take a pay freeze of $149,185 for the 2014-15 school year to save the district money.
“I think the board and I have continued to try to realize the community can only sustain so much,” Burton said. “In other areas of the state, it may be different, but we are not in those areas.”
Colucciello said he has 54 years of educational experience throughout the state, and because of that experience, he was able to earn more than some of the other superintendents within the three-county region.
However, Colucciello said he didn’t only bring vast knowledge and educational experience, but also significant savings, because his health insurance and retirement are already paid by the district he previously retired from in 1993. Since then, he has served with about seven other districts.
“It’s a benefit to the district because typically retirees do not require two of the benefits, and that is health insurance and retirement benefits,” Colucciello said. “If you were paying a permanent person, it would be approximately $43,000 more for those benefits.”
Michel said there are several factors he will discuss with the various boards of education when they are seeking an interim or permanent superintendent, including the size of the district and another is what “the market will bear.”
“We look at what the market is paying superintendents regionally, like Albany and Troy, and districts of similar size to determine what they are actually making,” Michel said. “Then we lay out a salary range for the board to consider.”
Michel said he was “not surprised” by the top earners for the three-county region because of the time served by each administrator.
He said after that initial point of hire, a superintendent’s pay will often be based on performance, length of service within education or the district itself, and the relationship the superintendent has with the board of education.
For instance, the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District’s Board of Education approved a four-year extension for Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson earlier in March. In the final year of that extension, 2017-18, his pay will be $155,530, compared to the $129,316 he made in 2013.
Following the extension, board President Edward Szumowski said the board unanimously decided to extend Tomlinson’s contract because of his commitment to the community and performance in the role as superintendent.
Michel also pointed out that small city districts will often pay less than the rural suburban schools for superintendents because most small cities have such a high poverty level.
Deputy Director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents Robert N. Lowry Jr. also said how long a superintendent has been in the position will often be reflected in the amount he or she is paid. He also noted over the last several years, superintendents’ average salaries have remained relatively flat due in part to salary freezes and other cuts to save money for their districts, and districts paying less for new hires.
“Also, starting salaries are getting lower, but the job has actually become more difficult with the demands of the implementation of Common Core and new teacher-principal evaluation requirements, and living within the tax cap,” Lowry said.
The figures show the Gloversville Enlarged School District had the highest number of employees within the top 10 total earnings for the three-county region. According to the 2012 earnings, Superintendent Michael Vanyo earned $134,488, while Boulevard Elementary School Principal Thomas Komp earned $123,485 and Assistant Superintendent Steven Schloicka earned $115,360.
Vanyo said the district pays what it does to its administrators because of their experience and an effort to remain competitive within the educational system.
“It’s recruitment and experience of what [the district] was looking to bring in,” Vanyo said. “You look and see like-size schools in the state-wide comparative and look at what the duties require to turn around this district. In [Schloicka’s] case he is a [certified public accountant], and the money he saves our district is significant, and trying to replace him would be very difficult.”
Gloversville’s graduation rate was among the lowest at schools in Fulton and Montgomery counties. The district’s graduation rate was 61 percent in 2012 and 56.3 percent in 2011, according to the state Education Department. Those rates are based on students who graduated after four years of high school as of August of the fourth year.
“We are trying to be competitive throughout the state and not just that region,” Vanyo added. “You have to get the right people in so that you can try to turn things around and move in the right direction.”
The Oppenheim-Ephratah and St. Johnsville districts recently merged and are in the midst of their first year as a combined district. The combined district wasn’t included in the above numbers because the two separate districts are no longer in existence since the merger.
The district provided the incomes for district employees for the current school year. The top five total salaries for 2014 were: Superintendent Laura Lawrence, $110,500; CIO Connie Debiere, $82,212; teacher Marge Curtis, $80,872; teacher Zale Benton, $80,508; and teacher Rose Sammons, $80,508. Superintendent Lawrence was the only employee to earn more than $100,000 this year in that district.
Lawrence was placed on paid leave for reasons the school district has refused to reveal. Lawrence continues to receive her salary while the district pays interim Superintendent Thomas Gallagher $500 per day.
Michel said OESJ is actually still operating with two separate teacher unions.
“They haven’t even combined their contracts yet,” Michel said. “The determination of the teacher’s salary is the negotiations they had with the school board.”
Board President Susanne Sammons declined to comment.