Editorial: Raise sends the wrong message

Pay hike for assistant to superintendent could be used for educational purposes instead

It’s not about the money. It’s the principle of the thing.

No, wait. It is about the money. And the principle of the thing.

Take a poor city school district like Schenectady, with low graduation rates, poor standardized test scores and a comparatively low passage rate for Regents exams.

Add in sky-high school property taxes that make it difficult for many people to afford even modest homes.

Then consider that school officials are always complaining they don’t have enough money to provide an effective education and are always lobbying Albany for more state aid.

So knowing all that, what does the Schenectady school board do? It awards a $10,000 pay raise to a district administrator who is already taking home nearly $190,000 a year in salary and benefits.

The 7 percent salary increase approved unanimously by the school board Wednesday brings the total compensation for Patricia Paser, assistant to the superintendent, to nearly $200,000 a year.  

Now add in the district superintendent’s total compensation of over $263,000. And then factor in that just 12 other administrative positions — mostly school principals — cost taxpayers another collective $1.6 million a year.

One might ask that if the district doesn’t have enough money for educational programs, how does it have enough money for such high salaries and a hefty pay raise for the district’s second-highest-ranking employee?

Sure, in the scheme of a $194 million school budget, $10,000 is a drop in the bucket. But how many new books could $10,000 buy? How many student breakfasts or field trips? Could the district get another part-time aide for that $10,000, or use the money to raise the annual salary of a vital employee whose pay isn’t hovering around $200,000?

The Greater Johnstown school district, facing the prospect of a contingency budget after its original budget was defeated in May, froze the salary of its superintendent and assistant superintendent for the next two years.

Even though the freeze only saved about $3,000, it sent a strong message that may have helped convince 70 percent of district voters to support the revised budget.

What message does this $10,000 raise send to Schenectady taxpayers? What message does it send to the parents and students who are being shortchanged by the district’s tight finances?

One might legitimately argue that the district needs to pay such high salaries to attract and retain high-quality candidates. And we have no doubt Ms. Paser has a difficult job.

But in a district like Schenectady, where every dollar is crucial, school officials need to be more frugal with the money they’re spending and more aware of the message they’re sending.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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