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

‘I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support’: Why it matters to have teachers who look like me

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

For 10 years — the first decade I was in school — all my teachers were white women.

As a Mexican-American kid, I didn’t get the chance to have a man of color as a teacher until high school. Going into my senior year, I like how diverse my teachers are now, but I wish I’d had the same experience when I was younger.

When I think about why it matters to have a teacher I can relate to, I think back to fifth grade. A classmate said to me, “Mexicans are illegal—they cross the border every day! How about you, did you cross the border?” This bothered me. So, after class, I asked the teacher for help. But all she said was, “That’s OK, he was just playing.” From there, I had nowhere to go. She was at the top of the food chain.

In 1990, before they met, my mother and father came over the border from Mexico. My mom’s parents weren’t making enough profit from their cattle ranch, so they had little choice but to immigrate. My mom came with them to the United States and worked at a restaurant so she could send money back home. My father followed his older brother here because he wanted to start a new life. Little did he know he would one day cross paths with my mother and eventually start a family.

But my classmate was “just playing” when he insulted all of this. I wish my teacher had done something else.

If I’d been the teacher, I would’ve taken a different approach and worked to understand why we were acting and responding the way we were. Maybe the other student and I could’ve found common ground. But, unfortunately, we never had a chance to try.

Up until ninth grade, I had zero male teachers of color. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support when things like the fifth-grade incident happened. Many of us students felt that way — and that’s why I want to be a teacher, a fifth-grade teacher in particular. I want to make my culture an asset in the classroom and be a teacher students feel comfortable confiding in, no matter their background.

A teacher’s perspective: Cut from the same cloth: Why it matters that black male teachers like me aren’t alone in our schools

In middle school, I started seeing more male educators, but they were all white. Then, when it came time for me to start high school, I ended up going to school in a different neighborhood — an hour commute away—and things finally changed for me. Since starting high school, I’ve had six male teachers of color, and it’s made a huge difference.

My high school makes a big deal out of the whole “building relationships” thing. To my teachers and everyone else at the school, relationships are just as important as academics. At first, it was hard to get used to, but eventually it started making sense to me. I’m in an all-male mentorship group led by two African-American men who openly share about their struggles growing up in New York, and give us advice in any area of life — including what it means to appreciate our cultures. This is one of the things I like most about my school.

It’s hard to explain the way it feels to have a teacher who looks like you; they’re like older brothers who become a huge part of our lives, even if it’s just for four years. They make it easier to connect and socialize and help me feel more like I belong. To me, learning from someone who reflects who you are is one of the best things a student can experience.

Near the end of the school year, my mentorship group did an activity where we took turns getting asked questions by other students and staff. One of the mentors asked me, “What’s it like being Mexican American and how has your background influenced your goals?” No one had ever asked me that before, and it took a long time for me to process the question.

After a few moments, I spoke a bit about my family’s story and shared some of the stereotypes I had encountered and how they affect me today. Everyone was so supportive, and the mentors encouraged me to continue breaking stereotypes and defining myself rather than letting others define me.

It was nerve-wracking at first, telling my story in that group, but after three years of high school, we’d developed that level of trust. It was the first time I’d shared my story with that many people at once, but it felt intimate and very different from the time in fifth grade when that kid tried to tell my story for me.

Finally having teachers that look like me has made a huge difference. They don’t just mentor me and help me with my academics, they also make my goal of becoming a teacher seem more realistic.

Having men of color I can look up to and model myself after is a big part of why I have no doubt I’ll make it to college — and eventually be able to give other kids the type of help my mentors have given me. I know where I’m needed, and that’s where I’m headed.

Jose Romero is a senior at EPIC High School North in Queens, New York. This piece originally appeared on the blog of TNTP, a national nonprofit and advocacy group that trains new teachers.

First Person

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

PHOTO: Karla Ann Cote/flickr
A white supremacist rally in Charlottesville surrounds a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Debates about monuments honoring Confederate icons and what they represent often come down to one’s view of Civil War history.

Last weekend’s violent gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, which left one protester dead, was started as a rally against removing a statue of Robert E. Lee. It’s one of about 700 Confederate monuments scattered across the eastern half of the country, with a large cluster in Virginia.

It’s no accident that white supremacists chose the site of a Confederate monument to amplify their racial hatred. For them, the statue is a symbol of white superiority over African Americans, who were enslaved in this country until the middle of the Civil War.

In a disturbing irony, these white supremacists understand an aspect of history that I wish my peers understood from their time spent in school. But many casual onlookers don’t grasp the connection between slavery and the Civil War, and the racism rooted in America’s history.

I know because, in my own education in a small town near Charlottesville, teachers rarely connected slavery and racism to the root of the Civil War. In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.

Those who grew up with me mostly see states’ rights as the primary cause of the Civil War, according to a 2011 survey by Pew Research Center. The national fact tank found that two-thirds of people younger than 30 think slavery was not the impetus. Only a third of people 65 and older shared that view.

The survey suggests that today’s students and young adults do not have full knowledge about the complicated relationship between the Confederacy, states’ rights, and slavery. Teachers have a unique opportunity to give a fuller picture of a painful past so that students can counter white supremacy and its inherent racism today.

As famed black writer and social critic James Baldwin put it: “If you don’t know what happened behind you, you’ve no idea what is happening around you.”

Tim Huebner, a Civil War researcher at Rhodes College in Memphis, said his own children’s textbooks accurately describe a complex economy that relied on enslaved people for labor. But in a state like Tennessee, where more classroom resources are spent on math and reading than social studies and history, a lot can get overlooked.

“If we’re not teaching students about the history of our country and the conflicts and struggles we’ve been dealing with, we don’t have the intellectual tools or the culture tools or ethical tools we need in order to deal with the issues that are coming to the surface now,” he told me.

Meanwhile, one look at the constitution of the Confederate States, or a speech given by Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens a few days after that constitution was written, would tell you states’ rights were meant to keep black people enslaved for economic gain.

“The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. (Thomas) Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the ‘rock upon which the old Union would split.’ He was right.”

Richard Spencer, the Charlottesville march organizer and a University of Virginia graduate, and James Alex Fields, who is charged with killing a woman by driving into a crowd of anti-Nazi demonstrators last weekend, understood too well the connection between slavery, racism and the Civil War.

Derek Weimer, a history teacher who taught the 20-year-old driver at a high school in Kentucky, said he noticed Fields’ fascination with Nazism. Even though teachers are one of several influential voices in a student’s life, he also implied educators have a role to play in shaping worldviews.

“I admit I failed. I tried my best. But this is definitely a teachable moment and something we need to be vigilant about, because this stuff is tearing up our country,” Weimer told The Washington Post.

Growing up in a state thick with Civil War history still left me with a misleading education, and it was years before I investigated it for myself. America’s most divisive and deadly war still has ramifications today — and students deserve better history lessons to help interpret the world around them.

Laura Faith Kebede is a reporter for Chalkbeat in Memphis.