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.

deja vu

For second straight year, two charter schools denied by Memphis board appeal to the state

PHOTO: Micaela Watts
Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education, listens last May to charter appeals by three operators in Memphis.

For the second year in a row, charter schools seeking to open in Memphis are appealing to the state after being rejected by the local board.

Two proposed all-girls schools, The Academy All Girls Charter School and Rich ED Academy of Leaders, went before the Tennessee Board of Education last week to plead for the right to open. Citing weaknesses in the schools’ planning, the Shelby County Schools board had rejected them, along with nine other charter applicants, last month. It approved three schools, many fewer than in previous years.

After state officials and charter operators complained last year that the Memphis school board didn’t have clear reasons for rejecting schools, the district revamped its charter oversight to make the review process more transparent. Now, five independent evaluators help scrutinize schools’ lengthy applications — a job that until this year had been done by three district officials with many other responsibilities. (The district also doubled the size of its charter schools office.)

The new appeals suggest that at least some charter operators aren’t satisfied by the changes.

District officials said the schools did not have clear goals for their academic programs and relied too heavily on grant funding. The board for Rich Ed Academy of Learners said in its appeal letter the district’s concerns were ambiguous and that the school would provide a unique project-based learning model for girls of color from low-income families.

The other school’s board said in its letter that the district’s decision was not in the best interest of students. A school official declined to elaborate.

The state board blasted Shelby County Schools’ charter revocation and approval processes last year, ultimately approving one appeal. That cleared the way for the first charter school in Memphis overseen by the panel.

The state board will vote on the new appeals at its quarterly meeting Friday, Oct. 20. If the state board approves the appeals, the local board would have 30 days to decide whether to authorize the school or relinquish oversight to the state board.

now hiring

With a new school year underway, hundreds of teaching positions remain unfilled in New York City

PHOTO: Jaclyn Zubrzycki

Hundreds of schools are missing teachers and support staff two weeks into the school year, with many of the openings in high-poverty districts and struggling schools that are typically the hardest to staff, according to postings on a city database in mid-September.

There were almost 1,700 job postings as of Sept. 19, according to data obtained by Chalkbeat. The listings offer a snapshot of the jobs advertised that day — not an official tally of the total citywide staff openings.

Still, they indicate a critical need for special-education teachers and paraprofessionals, teaching assistants who tend to work with young students and those with disabilities. Many of the unfilled positions were in low-income districts in the Bronx and Brooklyn, and dozens were in schools in the city’s Renewal program for low-performing schools.

The vacancies were posted in the city’s Excessed Staff Selection System, which lists jobs available to teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve — a pool of teachers who lack permanent positions because they face disciplinary or legal issues, or their schools were closed or downsized. The listings hint at where teachers in the ATR pool may land this year, since the city recently announced it will place such teachers in schools that still have vacancies after Oct. 15.

Education department officials said the data “doesn’t provide accurate or precise information on school vacancies.” In particular, they said there could be a lag in updating the postings, or that schools could post positions that are expected to become available but are currently filled.

In addition, schools may list the same job more than once in order to advertise the position to teachers with different certifications, officials said. For example, a posting for a computer science teacher could also appear as openings for math and science teachers.

Still, the postings suggest where the need for teachers may be greatest — and where ATR teachers could likely end up.

Four out of the five districts with the most postings were in the Bronx. They include Districts 7 and 9 in the South Bronx, along with Districts 10 and 12. District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York, also had dozens of listings.

In District 7, where more than 90 percent of students are poor, there were 60 postings for teachers in subjects ranging from Spanish to physical education and music. That includes 26 listings for paraprofessionals, who are often mandated by students’ special-education plans.

Overall, there were more than 600 listings for paraprofessionals, about half of which were needed to work with students who have disabilities. Almost 400 of the postings were for special-education teachers, who are often in short supply.

Devon Eisenberg knows these staffing challenges well. She is co-principal of The Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx in District 9. Despite boasting a staff-retention rate of about 90 percent, the school started the year short one teacher. To plug the hole, Eisenberg relied on substitutes and other teachers to cover the class. She was able to find a permanent hire this week, though the pool of qualified candidates was slim.

“This is definitely not fair for our students as they are not receiving consistent and coherent instruction,” she wrote in an email. “It is also stressful for the teachers covering these holes.”

Starting the school year with a substitute teacher can become a barrier to learning. Research has shown that staff turnover leads to lower test scores, even for students who weren’t in the class that lost its teacher.

Turnover tends to be highest in struggling schools, which often serve the neediest students.

Schools in the Renewal program — which includes 78 low-performing schools — posted about 70 openings, according to the data analyzed by Chalkbeat. The greatest shortage was for special-education teachers, for which there were 16 postings. That was followed by math teachers, with nine openings.

At M.S. 391 The Angelo Patri Middle School, a Renewal school in the Bronx, there were two postings for math teachers. Last year, only 8 percent of students passed state math exams at the school, which has a new principal.

Carmen Marrero teaches special education at M.S. 391 and has worked in other Bronx schools that struggle with staffing.

“We tend to deal with a lot of behavior challenges,” she said, referring to schools in the Bronx. “I guess that keeps some of the aspiring teachers or some of the teachers who are already in the field away from this side of town.”

This year, the openings come with an additional consequence: Schools with vacancies could be prime candidates to receive teachers in the ATR.

Though officials say they will work closely with principals, the department could place teachers even over the objections of school leaders. Some principals have threatened to game the hiring system by simply not posting openings in order to avoid having a teacher from the ATR placed at their school.

Meanwhile, some teachers in the pool dread being assigned to schools whose openings could signal poor leadership or a tough work environment.

Teachers who are in the ATR will not be placed in positions outside of their license areas, which may limit how many of the openings the education department can fill after mid-October.

Critics say the policy will place the least effective teachers in the neediest schools. Education department figures show that only 74 percent of ATR teachers were rated effective, highly effective or satisfactory in 2015-16 — compared to 93 percent of all city teachers.

Education department officials said the city has worked with schools to fill their vacancies well before the start of the school year.

Maria Herrera, principal of Renaissance High School for Musical Theater in the Bronx, said she tries to have all her hires in place by June. That way, she can involve future teachers in end-of-the-year activities that help build a sense of community, and provide training over the summer.

This year, she was able to start school fully staffed. The education department allowed schools to fill positions earlier this year and held numerous job fairs, she said.

“I feel really supported,” she said.