Pay Day

How the Department of Education’s top salaries stack up

The Department of Education’s top earner is no surprise: Chancellor Carmen Fariña, the longtime educator at the helm of the nation’s largest school system.

Newly released pay records show that two of Fariña’s most trusted deputies are not far behind: Dorita Gibson, Fariña’s second in command, and Corinne Rello-Anselmi, the deputy chancellor for special education, both make more than $200,000.

But the fourth highest paid employee may come as more of a surprise. Harlem Superintendent Gale Reeves, who oversees one of the city’s 32 local districts, is set to take home $204,000 — a salary that surpasses all other members of Fariña’s executive leadership team, including four deputy chancellors, the department’s chief finance officer, and its top lawyer.

Unlike salaries for teachers and principals, the pay for education department managers is not determined by labor contracts. Chalkbeat obtained the salary information for the majority of staff that is working centrally to support the city school system. Here’s what we learned:

All together, managerial salaries totaled $168 million for 1,500 employees in May 2015. For context, that’s only about 1 percent of what the city spends on salaries for the 133,000 teachers, principals, guidance counselors, and custodians who work directly in schools, which totaled more than $13 billion in 2013. (An extended list of the top-earners is below.)

Some managers have retained high salaries even after their responsibilities have shrunk. Reeves is the highest-profile case: Her official job title, “regional instructional supervisor,” is a relic of the Bloomberg administration, which created that high-ranking position for people managing multiple districts. That title was eliminated in a later round of restructuring, and Reeves became the superintendent of only Harlem’s District 5, a job she’s held since.

Parents in the district have clashed with Reeves for years, and began airing their frustrations publicly in recent months. In August, the district’s parent council spent much of its meeting criticizing Reeves for keeping important information about their schools from them and hiring principals without input from parents or teachers, though a few speakers defended her. Reeves did not respond to multiple emails seeking comment.

Fariña’s salary is still relatively low. Fariña now earns $222,000, which is less than many other big-city school chiefs make. Los Angeles’ Ramon Cortines makes $300,000, and Boston’s Tommy Chang makes $257,000, for example.

Her salary is also less than the $250,000 former Chancellor Joel Klein made during the Bloomberg administration. (Fariña also makes an extra $199,000 in a pension earned before coming out of retirement to serve as chancellor.)

One in five central employees from the Bloomberg administration left after de Blasio took office. Just under 300 of 1,500 nonunionized employees left the department between January 2014 and May 2015. That includes the high-profile departures of top Bloomberg deputies, but is a fuller picture of the churn that came as a result of the mayoral transition — and shows that four of five managers chose to stick around.

The department’s managers have received more than $8 million in raises since 2013, records show. There are now nine people who earn more than $200,000 a year, up from four in 2013, and 821 people who make $100,000, up from 614 in 2013.

Some of those raises came from a 4.5 percent boost that de Blasio gave to eligible managers across all city agencies earlier this year — the first increase in their base pay since 2009.

Other raises came with new responsibilities. The managers with the biggest salary increases since de Blasio took office are Elizabeth Rose, now the deputy chancellor for operations, whose pay rose from $116,550 to $187,000, and Sophia Pappas, who is head of the city’s pre-kindergarten programs and whose salary rose from $115,000 to $167,321.

Other high-ranking officials who saw big raises were Anna Commitante, who now oversees curriculum and teacher training and whose pay went from $166,000 to $191,000, and Ursulina Ramirez, the chancellor’s chief of staff, whose pay rose from $163,000 to $187,000.

Department officials said salaries are determined by a combination of factors, including seniority, previous salary, and education.

“It is essential that we maintain competitive salaries to attract the best talent to help run the nation’s largest school system,” spokeswoman Devora Kaye said.

promoting choice

Betsy DeVos defends vouchers and slams AFT in her speech to conservatives

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rallied a conservative crowd in Denver on Thursday, criticizing teachers unions and local protesters and defending private-school vouchers as a way to help disadvantaged students.

“Our opponents, the defenders of the status quo, only protest those capable of implementing real change,” DeVos told members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an influential conservative group that helps shape legislative policy across the country. “You represent real change.”

DeVos delivered the keynote speech at the ALEC meeting, where she reiterated her support for local control of schools and school choice. Citing the conservative former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, she said education should be about individual students and families, not school systems.

“Lady Thatcher regretted that too many seem to blame all their problems on society. But, ‘who is society?’” DeVos asked, quoting Thatcher. “‘There is no such thing!’”

The American Federation of Teachers, she said, has exactly the opposite idea.

“Parents have seen that defenders of the status quo don’t have their kids’ interests at heart,” she said.

AFT President Randi Weingarten threw punches of her own Thursday, calling private school vouchers “only slightly more polite cousins of segregation” in a Washington, D.C. speech.

DeVos highlighted states that have introduced vouchers or new school-choice programs including North Carolina, Kentucky and Arizona. Indiana — home to the nation’s largest voucher program — also won praise.

Data from existing voucher programs may have sparked the one critical question DeVos faced, during a brief sit-down after her speech. Legislators want to know how to respond to complaints that voucher programs only help wealthy families, the moderator, an Arizona lawmaker, told DeVos.

In Indiana, for instance, vouchers are increasingly popular in wealthy school districts and among families whose students had not previously attended public school.

“I just dismiss that as a patently false argument,” DeVos said. “Wealthy people already have choice. They’re making choices every day, every year, by moving somewhere where they determine the schools are right for their children or by paying tuition if they haven’t moved somewhere.”

Earlier this year, DeVos criticized Denver as not offering enough school choice because Colorado does not have private school vouchers. Still, presenters at the conference Thursday introduced Denver to ALEC members — conservative legislators, business leaders and lobbyists — as “living proof” that charter schools and competition work.

A local Denver school board candidate, Tay Anderson, and state union leaders held a protest Wednesday ahead of DeVos’s speech. Attendees said they were concerned that ALEC’s efforts, and DeVos’s focus on vouchers and school choice, would hurt public schools.

DeVos didn’t make mention of Denver or Colorado in her speech Thursday, but she briefly referenced the protest.

“I consider the excitement a badge of honor, and so should you,” she said.

out of the running

Denver school board candidate Jo Ann Fujioka withdrawing from at-large race

PHOTO: Daniel Brenner/Special to the Denver Post
Jo Ann Fujioka, center, holds signs and participates in a song during a Rally for Health Care earlier this month.

One of three candidates vying to unseat Denver school board vice president Barbara O’Brien has announced that she is dropping out of the race.

Jo Ann Fujioka said in an email message to supporters this week that she’s ending her candidacy because two other candidates backed out of running with her as a three-person slate. No other candidates have dropped out of the race.

Fujioka, a former Jeffco Public Schools nurse and administrator who lives in Denver, said consultants hired by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association “pressured the other two candidates to withdraw from the slate and then informed me, ‘You bring nothing to the table.’”

Fujioka declined to name the other two candidates or the consultants. Asked about Fujioka’s withdrawal, union president Henry Roman said, “We have strong candidates in every district.”

Four seats on the seven-member Denver Public Schools board are up for election in November. All seven seats are currently held by board members who support the superintendent’s vision, which includes embracing school choice and replacing low-performing schools.

Three incumbents are running for re-election. In the fourth race, the incumbent has endorsed a candidate. Every race is now contested, and every race includes at least one candidate who disagrees with the superintendent’s vision.

Fujioka was running for the at-large seat held by O’Brien on a platform of opposing school closures and new charter schools. Fujioka said her strategy from the beginning was to form a slate of four like-minded candidates. (Until recently, only three races were contested, which is why she said the proposed slate had three members.)

The idea, she said, was that the slate would stand together against the district’s reforms, which she and others have sought to tie to the policies championed by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

DeVos is best known for supporting private school vouchers, which DPS opposes.

“There’s a national anti-voucher, anti-DeVos, anti-Trump feeling,” Fujioka said. “…The fact that there are lots of activists against it, coupled with a ticket of four people saying, ‘This is what we’re railing against,’ that’s the advantage I see.”

Running individual campaigns against the incumbents would be more difficult, she said. When it became clear the slate wasn’t going to happen, Fujioka said she decided to withdraw from the race altogether — and explain her reasoning in a message to supporters, which she also posted on her website.

“It isn’t just that I quit,” she said. “That’s why I put that out there.”

O’Brien, who previously served as Colorado’s lieutenant governor for four years, responded to Fujioka’s statement with a press release saying she was disheartened to learn the reason that one of her opponents was dropping out of the race.

“Too often, women in politics find themselves facing unreasonable institutional barriers,” O’Brien said. “It’s discouraging, misguided and just plain wrong. … That a fellow progressive voice was forced to exit the race because consultants told her, ‘You bring nothing to the table,’ is more of the same that women in public service, and everywhere, have to tolerate.”

Fujioka called O’Brien’s statement “the sleaziest piece of campaign propaganda” she’d seen.

“I am appalled at Barbara hopping on this like a vulture to make it sound like she is so empathetic to my situation as a woman, when it really had nothing to do with being a woman,” Fujioka said. “Such a blatant appeal to women is shoddy at best.”

O’Brien said her statement was heartfelt.

Two other candidates confirmed that they’re still in the running against O’Brien: northwest Denver father Robert Speth, who narrowly lost an election to a school board incumbent in 2015, and former DPS teacher Julie Banuelos.

In the race for the board seat representing northeast Denver, two candidates — Tay Anderson and Jennifer Bacon — are challenging incumbent Rachele Espiritu.

In central east Denver, candidate Carrie A. Olson is challenging incumbent Mike Johnson.

And in southwest Denver, candidate Xochitl “Sochi” Gaytan is challenging candidate Angela Cobian, who has been endorsed by the board member who currently holds that seat.