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.

early running

Denver school board race opens up as Rosemary Rodriguez announces she won’t seek re-election

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Board member Rosemary Rodriguez speaks at Abraham Lincoln High (Chalkbeat file)

Denver school board member Rosemary Rodriguez said Wednesday that she is not running for re-election, putting her southwest Denver seat up for grabs in what will likely be a contentious school board campaign this fall with control of the board at stake.

Rodriguez told Chalkbeat she is retiring from her job as senior advisor to Democratic U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and plans to sell her home and buy a smaller one that belonged to her grandparents.

That home is not in her school board district, District 2, but in the district represented by board member Lisa Flores. With the exception of at-large members, Denver school board members must live in the districts they represent.

“If it weren’t the case, I would still be running,” Rodriguez said.

During her four-year tenure, Rodriguez worked with community groups and others to spotlight student achievement in southwest Denver, leading to new schools and better transportation.

Former Denver Public Schools teacher and Denver native Angela Cobian announced Wednesday that she is running for the seat. Rodriguez has endorsed Cobian, a political newcomer who works for the nonprofit Leadership for Educational Equity, which helps Teach for America members and alumni get involved in politics and advocacy.

All seven current board members support Denver’s nationally known brand of education reform, which includes a “portfolio” of traditional district-run, charter, magnet and innovation schools.

With four of the the board’s seats up for grabs this November, the campaign presents an opportunity for opponents of those reforms to again try to get a voice on the board.

The field is still very much taking shape. The most competitive race so far involves District 4 in northeast Denver. Incumbent Rachele Espiritu, who was appointed to the seat last year, announced her campaign earlier this month. The board chose Espiritu after its initial pick, MiDian Holmes, withdrew after a child abuse case came to light and she was not forthcoming with all the details.

Also filing paperwork to run in District 4 is Jennifer Bacon, who was a finalist in the process that led to the board picking Espiritu. Auontai “Tay” Anderson, the student body president of Manual High School, declared his candidacy for the northeast Denver seat in April.

Incumbents Mike Johnson and Barbara O’Brien have not yet filed election paperwork with the state. Two candidates have declared for O’Brien’s at-large seat: Julie Banuelos and Jo Ann Fujioka.

equity issues

A report found black students and teachers in Denver face inequities. Can these 11 recommendations make a difference?

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/Denver Post
A student at Ashley Elementary School in Denver.

Helping African-American families understand their children’s school choices, offering signing bonuses to prospective black teachers and making student discipline data count in school ratings are among the recommendations of a task force that tackled inequities faced by African-American students and educators in Denver.

“Once we were able to get past some of the hurts that people experienced, once we were able to come up with the root causes and understand this process is going to be uncomfortable, we were able to come together in a way to do the work we need to do,” Allen Smith, the associate chief of Denver Public Schools’ Culture, Equity and Leadership Team, said Wednesday at an event to reveal the recommendations and solicit feedback at Bruce Randolph School on the city’s northeast side.

The DPS African-American Equity Task Force, which was comprised of more than 100 members, made 11 recommendations in all. (Read them in full below.) They include directing the district to:

— Design a tool to assist African-American families in understanding which schools best match their students’ needs and interests, and “generate personalized recommendations.”

— Require every school to create an Equity Plan “designed to strengthen relationships between African-Americans and schools” through strategies such as home visits by teachers.

— Ensure curriculum is culturally responsive to African-American students.

— Develop a plan to increase black students’ access to “high value learning opportunities,” including the district’s gifted and talented program, and concurrent enrollment courses.

— Create a human resources task force that would, among other things, ensure African-American job candidates receive equal consideration and once hired, equal pay.

— Incentivize black educators to come to DPS and stay, and create a pipeline program to encourage black students “to return to serve their own communities.”

The recommendations do not include a price tag. Nor have they “been evaluated for legal compliance,” according to the document.

The task force was created in the wake of a critical report documenting the concerns of 70 African-American Denver educators. The educators said black teachers feel isolated and passed-over for promotions. Black students are being left behind academically, the teachers said, in part because of low expectations and harsh discipline by teachers who are not black.

Thirteen percent of the district’s approximately 92,000 students are African-American. Last year, just 4 percent of DPS teachers were black. Seventy-four percent were white.

District statistics show that the percentages of African-American students who are proficient in English and math, as measured by state tests, trail district averages. Only a third of black students graduated college-ready last year, which is lower than white or Latino students.

Meanwhile, more black students are identified as needing special education. And African-American students have the highest suspension rate in the district.

The district has taken some steps to address the inequities. DPS is part of a multi-year campaign along with the mayor’s office and charter school operators to recruit more than 70 teachers of color and 10 school leaders of color to Denver.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg noted at Wednesday’s event that DPS is starting to see results; one-quarter of new principals hired to lead schools next year are African-American, he said.

For the first time this year, the district required its new teachers to take a previously optional three-hour course on culturally responsive teaching in which they were asked to share fears about working with students and families from different backgrounds.

DPS also added a new measure this year to its color-coded school rating system that takes into account how well schools are educating traditionally underserved students. However, the district has since tweaked its “equity indicator” in response to concerns from school leaders, and the task force recommended even more changes. In addition to looking at student test scores, it is calling for including discipline data, as well as teacher hiring, retention and promotion data.

And the district has announced plans to eliminate out-of-school suspensions and expulsions for preschool through third-grade students except in the most serious incidents.

The set of 11 recommendations includes one overarching one: the creation of an African-American Equity Team to ensure the district executes the ideas it adopts.

“A deep thank you for your work and a deep thank you in advance for the work we will be doing together,” Boasberg said.

The recommendations are scheduled to be presented to the Denver school board in June.

Read the full recommendations below.