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.

2018

Salazar won’t run in governor’s race featuring strong education storylines

PHOTO: Denver Post File
Former U.S. Senator and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Ken Salazar’s decision not to run for Colorado governor takes one prominent Democrat out of a still-developing campaign that promises to prominently feature public education as an issue.

The former U.S. senator and interior secretary cited family reasons for his decision to sit out the 2018 Democratic primary. Salazar, who is closely involved in raising a granddaughter who has autism, could have been a voice on public education for children with disabilities.

In a Denver Post commentary explaining why isn’t running, Salazar took a broad view of the challenges in education.

“Colorado’s education crisis needs to be solved from pre-kindergarten to college,” Salazar wrote. “It is sad that Colorado has defunded higher education and abandoned the great tradition of leading the nation with our great colleges and universities.”

Salazar’s announcement could set other plans in motion quickly in the Democratic field.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston, a prominent education reformer, and entrepreneur Noel Ginsburg, CEO of Intertech Plastics, have already announced they are running.

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Arvada told the Denver Post on Thursday the “chances are very good” he will run, and could declare his candidacy soon.

Former state treasurer Cary Kennedy said she is seriously considering running, and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder said he has not ruled it out, according to the Post.

Among the Republicans mulling a run: District Attorney George Brauchler, state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and state Treasurer Walker Stapleton.

how's it going?

She’s no Tony Bennett or Glenda Ritz — Jennifer McCormick is charting her own course as Indiana’s schools chief

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

For years, Indiana’s state superintendents have made huge political waves while in office.

Tony Bennett was a major Republican proponent of choice-based education reform. Democrat Glenda Ritz led an administration filled with political clashes with then-Gov. Mike Pence, a staunch conservative.

But this could be changing with Indiana’s newest schools chief, Jennifer McCormick.

More than two months into her administration and more than halfway through the 2017 legislative session, educators and advocates are praising McCormick’s focus and remain optimistic about her tenure.

“The general perception is people are finding her and her staff are good to work with,” said Betsy Wiley, head of the Indiana Institute for Quality Education, a local school reform organization that made large donations to McCormick’s campaign. “I think she’s been working really hard on making sure people know that her door is open.”

As a Republican official taking office under a Republican governor, McCormick is better positioned politically to accomplish her goals. Her relationship with Gov. Eric Holcomb has appeared relatively tension-free so far. They’ve made joint announcements about state initiatives related to STEM education and workforce development, and McCormick has been on-board with his budget proposal.

McCormick said that so far, there has been lots of talking.

“We’re not always going to agree, but at least the conversations are happening,” she said. “We have our hands and eyes and voice in a lot of the education bills that we’re concerned about, so we’ve been right there at the table offering amendments” to legislators.

But mostly, McCormick has been quiet when it comes to public state policy debates.

“I think she’s learning the ropes, and rightly so,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said. “She and her team are working closely with the state board, so I consider it very good — No controversy of any kind.”

Yet McCormick’s approach doesn’t sit as well with Minority Leader Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City. He said he’s worried she’s leaving too much power to top GOP lawmakers in charge of education and not taking enough initiative at the department of education.

“I’m not familiar with any of the work that she’s doing,” he said. “The work that is happening on education is happening in the House and Senate chambers … If it’s her aim to just be ‘go along, get along, whatever Rep. Behning says or Sen. Kruse says is A-OK,’ I don’t know that she’s going to have a major role to play.”

Bosma and Pelath’s difference in opinion reflects some of the debates occurring in the Indiana General Assembly this year about whether to make the state superintendent an appointed or elected position. Part of the conversation inevitably centers around how people view McCormick’s role and it’s purpose.

It’s not clear yet if McCormick will step forward with ideas of her own or be more of an administrator who solely implements the policies of lawmakers, which GOP leaders repeatedly. But she has supported Gov. Eric Holcomb’s plan to make the role an appointed one.

McCormick has testified once this year before the Indiana Senate. During that hearing last week, she expressed concerns about testing and teacher evaluation that routinely were dismissed when Ritz was in charge, such as advocating for “computer-adaptive” tests. She also told senators there should be more conversations about how test scores are tied into teacher evaluations and whether that provision should be removed.

McCormick isn’t — and never has been — in lockstep with other Republicans on education policy. That was clear during her campaign, when, despite having mostly school choice advocates and Republicans as donors, she disagreed with GOP policies and instead advocated for changes to the school funding formula and seriously evaluating the impact of state-funded vouchers for private school.

Wiley said that although McCormick hasn’t shown herself to be an aggressive supporter of all school choice policies, such as vouchers, Wiley still thinks her organization made a good investment in backing her.

“She knows she has at least four years in that role, and she intends to do and get stuff done,” Wiley said. “If she doesn’t get credit for it along the way, I just don’t think she cares.”

Todd Bess, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Principals, said he’s heard from school leaders that they’re seeing more timely responses to phone calls and emails with the department of education.

Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said she’s appreciated the time McCormick has made to talk with ISTA members, and she has no reason to believe she’s not going to support public schools — she’s “cautiously optimistic.”

Despite accusations during her campaign that she’d be too much like her Republican predecessor, Bennett, McCormick has not aligned herself with one particular education philosophy or camp. David Harris, CEO of The Mind Trust, said that independence is admirable.

“She is clearly her own woman, and I think there were some expectations,” Harris said. “She has been pretty clear that she’s going to follow the agenda and approach that she thinks is best.”