First Person

IRS Form 990s and Charter School Compensation

Kim Gittleson is a research assistant working with Ken Hirsh, a GothamSchools community writer and financial contributor.

The IRS recently posted the Form 990 filings for the 2007-2008 school year. This form is the required federal filing for tax-exempt organizations, which include charter schools, and contains data about fundraising, spending, and leadership compensation.

Since Form 990 filings are often difficult to find, I have compiled a database of the forms for 64 out of the 80 charter schools that were open in 2008. Of the 16 schools without Form 990s on record, fourteen are schools that opened in the fall of 2008 (and thus didn’t have a 2007-2008 report). One school, East New York Preparatory Charter School, was open during the 2007-2008 school year but had no form available as of this writing. You can view a spreadsheet of the schools, their grades, the years in which they opened, and whether or not they filed a Form 990 here. The full database of all of the Form 990s is located here.

Because these filings are often lengthy and complicated, I have attempted to analyze some of the information. In this analysis, I examined the compensation data available in the 990s to better understand compensation as compared to traditional public schools. To see the results of my survey, you can download the spreadsheet here.

Some key findings:

  • The average salary of the top earner at a charter school or CMO is $169,772. The median is $145,000. If you factor in other costs, like pensions and expense accounts, the average is $186,828 and the median is $158,928. For reference, the average superintendent salary (including regional and community superintendents) is $177,785, according to data provided by SeeThroughNY.
  • The highest salary for a charter school leader or CMO executive is $494,269 ($515,258 with pension and expense accounts). The lowest salary is $86,057 (there were no listed pension or expense accounts for this person).
  • The amount of executive compensation varied significantly from school to school, with some charter schools paying their top 5 earners over $90,000 and others with only one person listed above $80,000.
  • The average salary for a charter school principal is $120,454. The median is $124,000. The average salary for a DOE principal is $133,680 and the median is $133,490, according to data provided by SeeThroughNY. (Note: I did not include pension data because this was only available for charter school principals and not available for traditional DOE principals.)

My methods:

Non-profit charter schools are required to list the top five earners at their school as well as the number of employees that make over $50,000 in their 990 filing. However, charter schools are sometimes controlled by larger Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) that are responsible for the management and backroom support of several charter schools in New York City and elsewhere. (Uncommon Schools, Inc. and Achievement First, Inc. are two examples of such CMOs.) These CMOs are often the source of the compensation data for the executive directors of schools and networks of schools.

Additionally, charter schools often set up related charitable organizations, usually known as “Friends of X School,” through which employees at the school are compensated in addition to the salary listed on the school’s 990 filing. Thus, in order to get as comprehensive a sense as possible of total compensation both within an individual school as well as its larger CMO, I looked at the “Related Organizations” line on the 990 and then found the tax filing for the organizations listed. (A full database of these filings is available here.) This data, combined with the original 990 database, is what I used to determine the top earner at each charter school as well as the top earner in each charter school network. (If a charter school was not run by a separate CMO, I simply used the data listed on the 990 for the school itself.)

I have listed the school’s name, the salary of the top earner as well as the salary including pension and expense accounts, the title of the top earner, and whether or not this top earner was an employee of a related organization. I have chosen not to include names, although all of this information is available on the 990 filings. In addition to this data, I also looked at the top five earners in each specific charter school to get a sense of how pay was distributed across the individual schools. Included in this analysis are the job titles of the top earners, listed in order from highest paid to lowest. Finally, I compared principal compensation at charter schools versus traditional public schools (these are the last two pages of the spreadsheet). Inconsistencies, either in reporting from a particular school or in my methodology, are noted in the document.

If you have any questions about my approach or any helpful criticism, post it in the comments section below. Questions are welcome!

First Person

Why I take class time to teach perseverance (and let my fourth-graders write on their desks)

PHOTO: Kelly Wilkinson/Indianapolis Star
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Every morning, I hand my fourth-grade students dry-erase markers and ask them to do something unconventional: write directly on their desks.

Their task is to write a goal for the day. I have seen them write things like “Today I will be a better friend” or more abstract ideas like “My goal is to accept challenges.” When it’s time to leave, we celebrate those who met their goals and encourage those who haven’t to try again tomorrow.

Daily goal-setting is one of many strategies I use to teach perseverance, self-control, confidence and teamwork — “soft skills” often referred to as social-emotional learning. Most require just a couple of extra minutes at the start and end of our school days, but the payoff seems invaluable.

Research shows that students who internalize those skills may actually be better at learning hard skills like math and reading, and are more likely to graduate from high school. One study showed that students were more motivated when they were told their brains are muscles that can get stronger with practice, just like any other muscle. This year, I’ve already seen students use their daily goal-setting to focus on tasks they used to think they could not accomplish, like multiplication.

I’ve seen this strategy work with students of all ability levels. We are a diverse community, and the same goals don’t work for everyone, especially my students who fall under the special-education umbrella or whose primary language isn’t English. But that doesn’t mean they are excluded. Part of the learning process for students is crafting their own goals that will work for them.

Another part of this exercise is practicing compassion. Nothing makes my heart happier than seeing my students take a genuine interest in each other. They’ve even written goals like, “I want to learn to speak English” (with help from another classmate) or “I will help Alan with his math today.” And they actually did it. Those two students sat together in class and worked on sight words and multiplication problems.

An important part of this work is defining these ideas, like empathy, grit and determination for students so I can be specific about what we’re aiming for. (I like ClassDojo’s Big Ideas videos, which explain those concepts through the eyes of a little monster named Mojo, and prompt my students to talk about how they’ve felt when they didn’t know an answer or were intimidated by a task.)

An unexpected benefit of these lessons has been personal. Lately, my class has been struggling with getting off-task — and, as all teachers know, every minute I spend asking a student to please stop talking or stop distracting others is a minute not spent on academic content or teaching the rest of the class. At one of those moments, I asked my students to empathize with me, one teacher trying to reach 22 of them, and with their fellow students, who wanted to learn but were being distracted.

We talked as a class about building a new set of expectations for our classroom. And by the end of the day, I had received two hand-delivered notes, secretly created and signed by each student in the class, saying that they were sorry for disturbing class.

The notes showed me that my students are learning compassion and also that they are beginning to value their academic time. I hope that it was a sign of soft skills leading to hard skills — students recognizing that how they act has an impact on learning the skills necessary to solve problems and succeed.

Stephanie Smith is a fourth-grade teacher at Roy L. Waldron Elementary School in La Vergne, Tenn.

First Person

My students are worried about their families being deported. Here’s what I stopped world history class to tell them

PHOTO: Creative Commons / nickestamp
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Queens, New York is an exciting place to teach world history. The borough is known for its diversity, and more than 1 million of its residents were born in a different country. The world’s history is the story of cultures represented right in my class.

That diversity is also why I knew my high-school students would have more than a mild curiosity about President-elect Donald Trump’s stance on immigration. According to the Migration Policy Institute, as many as 232,000 residents of the borough could be undocumented. More than 15,000 of them are children.

So, last week, I finished our lesson a few minutes early and asked my students a question. “Who here is concerned that someone they love will be forced to return to a home country under President Trump?” More than half of my students raised their hands.

I have read about what Trump has said he intends to do with regard to undocumented immigrants in this country — plans that have honestly left me disturbed. But I’m also aware that, when fear is pervasive, a well-timed lesson can be a calming force for students who are feeling anxious about what may happen to them.

So I did some research. My plan is to return to the topic in a few days with a brief lecture about what could occur to undocumented persons under a Trump presidency.

Raising this topic in a world history class may seem a bit incongruent. But part of my responsibility as a teacher is to make sure students feel safe and valued in my class. So I’ve decided that sharing some basic facts that are important for understanding this topic is a good place to start.

The first set of facts will be designed to assuage some fears. I think it’s a good idea to inform students about the extent to which New York City, like many cities across the country, has committed to making their families safe from deportation. The truth is that the city government has a three-decade-long tradition of making New York a sanctuary for undocumented people.

I’ll tell them that New York’s status as a “sanctuary city” began back in 1989, when Mayor Ed Koch signed Executive Order 124. That expressly forbade most city employees from telling the federal government if they suspected someone was in the United States illegally. That was enforced by mayors Dinkins and, surprisingly, Giuliani.

That order was ultimately struck down, but Mayor Bloomberg issued his own executive orders establishing a policy where most city employees cannot ask about an immigrant’s legal status or disclose someone’s documentation status under most circumstances. And it is important for my students to know that the exceptions to those policies pertain to undocumented people who are suspected of breaking the law.

In 2014, our current mayor, Bill de Blasio, signed two bills into law which promised even less cooperation with federal authorities seeking to remove undocumented city residents. In 2015, federal officials asked the city to detain under 1,000 people who were already in jail. The city transferred fewer than 220 to federal custody — less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the city’s estimated 500,000 undocumented residents.

I’m not inclined to leave my students with a false sense of safety, though. That would be irresponsible.

The truth is, if they live in communities where there are a lot of arrests, and Trump follows through with some of his campaign promises, then there is a greater likelihood that more deportations will occur. If he triples the number of ICE field officers in the U.S. and ends the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which grants a path to residency for people who grew up without documentation, the chance that my students will be affected will increase.

But facts don’t always have to represent good news in order to make a young person feel more secure. Young adults just don’t work that way. That’s why I will be sharing this information as well.

I will also tell them they do not need to face their concerns in isolation. Seeking out other people and organizations who handle this issue can be incredibly empowering. The New York State Youth Leadership Council is a great place for students to start.

The truth is no one knows whether Trump’s campaign promises will become reality. I also know that one teacher in one classroom isn’t going to do much to combat the reality that undocumented young people already live with real fear. But as we combat the “Trump effect,” facts can be helpful antidotes.

John Giambalvo is a social studies teacher at Information Technology High School in Long Island City, Queens.