Administrators make six figures while schools fail

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PATERSON, N.J. – Here’s one way to sum up the situation in the Paterson school district: The rich (school administrators and lawyers) keep getting richer while a large percentage of students aren’t getting the education they deserve.
Six figures

EAGnews recently completed an inspection of spending in the Paterson school district, at least to the limited degree that secretive school officials allowed.

The inspection was part of our ongoing national effort to publicize spending patterns in selected public schools and bring more transparency – and hopefully public awareness – to the process.

We learned at least 23 administrators in the Paterson district made more than six figures per year in salary in 2012-13, before the value of any benefits were counted. The list included a superintendent, six assistant superintendents, one deputy superintendent and a chief of staff.

We learned that the district’s lawyers also made out well, to the tune of $657,290 in legal fees in one academic year. A big percentage of those fees were the result of legal work related to the district’s dealing with the labor unions.

And we learned that the district spent $647,663 on tuition reimbursement, presumably for teachers who took advanced level college classes that year. That’s a major investment considering numerous studies have shown that teachers with advanced college credits are no more effective than those without them.

We hoped to highlight other union-related labor costs – which we have reason to believe are very high – but the district would not provide them.

The district’s total operating budget for the year was $473 million. Per pupil spending in 2009-10 (the last year available) was $22,015. So what did all that money buy?

Twenty-five of the 45 schools in the district are struggling to meet state academic standards. Nineteen are classified as “focus schools” due to low graduation rates and low academic performance, while the other six are classified even lower.

The graduation rate in 2012 was an embarrassing 66.3 percent.

It seems like that amount of money should purchase better results.

Administrators and lawyers

The top salary on this top-heavy administrative team went to Superintendent Donnie Evans, who made $205,000 in 2012-13.

Also on the well-paid list are Assistant Superintendent Susana Peron ($142,650), Assistant Superintendent Michelle James ($140,700), Assistant Superintendent Brenda Patterson ($167,984), Assistant Superintendent Aubrey Johnson ($140,000), Assistant Superintendent Eileen Shafer ($164,507), Assistant Superintendent Joanne Riviello ($147,350), Acting Deputy Superintendent Marguerite Vandenwyngaard ($175,000), Director of Communications Teresa Corallo ($115,000), Accounting Manager Daisy Ayala ($104,676) and Fiscal Monitor Antoniette Scholing ($104,414).

Also bringing in the big bucks were Project Manager Anthony Infante ($112,512), Interim Site Coordinator Benjie Wimberly ($111,826), Director of Non-Traditional Programs Carol Smeltzer ($115,851), Food Services Director David Buchholtz ($149,760), Technology Director Emilio Barca ($117,865), Chief of Staff Jacqueline Jones ($140,961), Safety Director James Smith ($121,049), Network Technician Jihad Saleem Jr. ($101,601), Project Engineer Kim Ky ($103,397), Risk Management Officer Laureen Maloney ($121,367), Labor Relations Director Luis Rojas ($110,058) and Purchasing Supervisor Neville Williams ($100,595).

The total salary for those administrators alone – and there are probably more we didn’t find – was $2,809,123.

The administrative team was not overworked, despite the inflated salaries. They each were scheduled to work a contracted 233 days per year, with 37 paid leave days allowed.

If any of them used all of their eligible paid time off, they worked less than 200 days per year.

Another massive expense for the school district were legal fees, which totaled $657,290.

About $543,000 of that total was spent on legal services labeled by the district as “general” or “risk management.” The remaining balance of the legal costs – about $114,000 – were the result of attorneys working on district labor union issues, including work-related grievances and arbitration.

It’s well documented that union collective bargaining (and associated controversy) is a huge distraction from the education process. Hopefully the public will also start to understand the financial burden of having organized labor in public schools.

Teacher union contract costs

EAGnews asked the district to answer a series of questions about the costs of various provisions in the teachers union collective bargaining agreement.

They only answered one, having to do with tuition reimbursement, presumably for teachers, which came to $647,663.

We’re not surprised the Paterson district refused to divulge the other costs. We were able to secure similar information several years ago, for the 2009-10 school year, and the dollars spent were outrageous.

For instance, the district spent $16.8 million that year on compensation for teachers who were not working for one reason or another; $445,527 on an attendance incentive program; $2.4 million on reimbursement for unused sick days; $6.4 million on automatic, annual raises for teachers, regardless of performance; and $1.2 million in extra pay for teachers to monitor student lunch rooms.

How much have those costs grown over the past few years? Perhaps the district would tell parents or local media outlets, if they cared enough to report this stuff.

Unanswered questions

As indicated above, Paterson school officials offered few details about most of their expenditures.

The basic records they provided gave a few skimpy details in a couple of categories.

The district spent $68,015 on travel, and nearly half of that total was spent at some type of conference at the University of Maryland, where the district dropped $26,700 for travel expenses, registration, meals, lodging and other items.

We were also offered a few details about the district’s $10,041 restaurant tab. A total of $4,095 was spent at La Neve’s Cedar Cliff on Dec.16, 2011 for the annual “Parent of the Year” breakfast. Another $2,000 was spent at the Jacksonville Cafe on June 29, 2012 for what the district described as “other services,” while $1,680 went to Frank’s J & D Pizzeria on May 15, 2012 for lunch for High School Proficiency Assessments at Eastside High School.

Fewer details were included with the hotel tab, which came to $12,199. One charge, for $2,090, was with Trump Plaza Hotel Reservations for “travel-conventions/conferences MEA.” Another entry on the hotel log, a charge of $6,932 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, is described as “travel; other objects.”

The district spent $127,829 on cell phones, but wouldn’t tell us how many employees get the phones or why they need them.

We’re left to guess the reason for other types of spending, including $416,037 on “moving and storage,” $6 million on “leases,” $436,310 spent at the Paterson Mall Shopping Center and $50,000 at Barnes and Noble.

By Steve Gunn at EAGnews.org

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