salary disparity

A possible hurdle as New York City searches for a new schools chief: low pay

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña

As New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tries to lure top talent from across the country to replace his retiring schools chief, one factor could complicate the search: The nation’s largest school system doesn’t pay its leader very well, at least compared to her peers.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña is earning roughly $235,000 this year, considerably less than the heads of many other large urban school systems. In Los Angeles — which is also conducting a search for a new leader — outgoing Superintendent Michelle King brings home $350,000. Philadelphia’s superintendent makes over $311,000.

In fact, the head of New York City’s 1.1-million-student school system draws a base salary that is below the average for districts with as few as 50,000 students, according to a 2014 survey conducted by the Council of Great City Schools. Among larger systems with 200,000 or more students, districts paid their chiefs an average of $281,000 — or $46,000 more than New York City’s currently does. (Suburban school chiefs often make more to run much smaller districts; on Long Island, for instance, dozens of superintendents posted higher salaries than Fariña.)

Fariña’s total compensation is much higher because she is also collecting a $210,000 pension from her decades-long career in the city school system before de Blasio plucked her out of retirement. But an outsider would presumably not have a similar salary sweetener.

Of course, pay may be lower on some candidates’ list of considerations than the chance to steer the nation’s most high-profile school system, not to mention the prestige and resume boost that comes with that national spotlight. Still, the relatively low salary could make it more difficult to convince seasoned leaders of higher-paying districts to accept the unusually demanding position, experts say, even if the job leads to higher-paying positions down the road.

“You have to make sure that the salary is at least up there high enough that you can get good, experienced leaders,” said Ryan Ray, whose leadership recruitment firm, Ray and Associates, conducts about 50 superintendent searches a year. “I’m not going to say salary is the only factor, but it’s definitely a factor.”

While chancellor candidates may take a range of considerations into account when considering the job (including the cost of living in New York City), at least one past candidate turned down an offer primarily because of the pay four years ago, according to a former education official who was briefed on the search.

“The biggest problem they have in terms of the attractiveness of the job is the salary,” the official said.

So why don’t city officials just make the salary more competitive — barely a drop in the bucket of the education department’s $24 billion operating budget?

In theory, there’s no reason why they couldn’t. In practice, however, the city is typically reluctant to pay agency heads more than the mayor, experts and observers said. After taking a raise this year, de Blasio earns nearly $259,000, leaving relatively little wiggle room to make the chancellor’s salary more competitive.

“It’s not only a norm of city government, it’s almost like a social norm: The boss makes the most money,” said David Bloomfield a professor of education, law, and public policy at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, noting that the salary could nudge the search toward internal candidates who would almost certainly earn a raise. “It’s a potentially limiting factor.”

Bloomfield added that districts governed by school boards may see less reason to peg superintendent salaries to other top city employees, since they are generally independent. The New York City schools chancellor, by contrast, is supervised by the the mayor, who may be reluctant to pay someone more than he makes, or face criticism stemming from paying a much higher salary (though if this shocking Louisiana school board meeting is any indication, school boards also face pushback on superintendent compensation).

For their part, city officials waved off concerns that the chancellor’s salary would have an effect on the search process. “Our application pool has always been competitive and salary isn’t a hinderance at all,” a mayoral spokeswoman, Olivia Lapeyrolerie, wrote in an email.

But asked whether the city would consider offering a salary higher than the mayor’s to make it more competitive, Lapeyrolerie had no comment.

Future of Schools

Chicago Schools sets community meetings on controversial school inventory report

Chicago Public Schools is hosting a dozen workshops for community members focused on a controversial report about local schools that offers an unprecedented window into the assets — and problems — in certain neighborhoods.

The district published report, called the Annual Regional Analysis, in September. It shows that, in many areas of the city, students are skipping out on nearby options, with less than half of district students attending their designated neighborhood schools.

The school district and Kids First, the school-choice group that helped compile the report, maintain that the analysis is meant to help guide investments and empower communities to engage in conversations about their needs.

The report divides the school district into 16 “planning regions” showing where schools are, what programs they offer, how they are performing, and how people choose among the options available.

The meetings will start with a presentation on the report. They will include small-group discussions to brainstorm how Chicago Schools can invest in and strengthen schools. The first workshop is scheduled for Wednesday at Collins Academy High School.

While the school district has touted the detailed report as a resource to aid planning and community engagement, several groups have criticized the document and questioned the district’s intent.  The document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that the district might use it to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

The parents group Raise Your Hand, the neighborhood schools’ advocacy group Generation All, and the community organizing group Blocks Together penned a letter recently scrutinizing the report’s reliance on school ratings, which are based largely on attendance and test scores.

“Research has shown that test scores and attendance tell us more about the socioeconomic status of the students’ communities rather than the teaching and learning inside the school itself,” they wrote. Chalkbeat Chicago first reported about the analysis in August after obtaining a copy of it. Yet, the document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that it could be used to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

Here’s a list of the 12 community workshops, all of which all begin at 6 p.m.:

West Side Region: Oct. 17, Collins Academy High School

Greater Lincoln Park Region: Oct. 18, Lincoln Park High School

Greater Calumet Region: Oct. 22, Corliss High School

South Side Region: Nov. 7, Lindblom High School

Greater Stony Island Region: Nov. 8, Chicago Vocational Career Academy

Far Southwest Region: Nov. 13, Morgan Park High School

Far Northwest Side Region: Nov. 14, Steinmetz High School

Greater Milwaukee Region: Nov. 15, Wells High School

Greater Stockyards Region: Nov. 19, Kelly High School

Pilsen/Little Village Region: Nov. 26, Benito Juarez Community Academy

Greater Midway Region: Dec. 6, Curie Metropolitan High School

North Lakefront Region : Dec. 11, Roger C Sullivan High School

testing questions

‘The needle hasn’t moved’: Regents sound off on racial gaps in 2018 test scores

PHOTO: Getty Images/Kali9

New York State’s top education policymakers raised concerns Monday about whether the state is doing enough to address persistent racial gaps on state exams.

The discussion was the first opportunity the Board of Regents have had to discuss the results of last school year’s reading and math tests since they were released late last month. And while the Regents seemed to be in agreement that the gaps are problematic, there was little discussion of what to do about it beyond requesting more data.

The test scores released in September show just under 35 percent of black students statewide are proficient in reading, 17 points below their white peers. In math, the gap jumps to 25 points. (The gaps are similar for Hispanic students compared with their white peers.)

The gaps are even wider in New York City.

Regent Judith Johnson, who has repeatedly criticized the state tests for not reflecting student learning across different ethnic groups, said the education department is still not doing enough to analyze the causes of racial differences in proficiency on the grades 3-8 exams. Those gaps, Johnson said, will bring down the competitiveness of the American workforce.

“It’s absolutely based on poverty and color,” Johnson said. “That has not changed and that begs for analysis at this point.”

Commissioner MaryEllen Elia acknowledged “troubling gaps” on student achievement, but also said state officials, including the Regents, have been working on it for years. She also pushed back on the idea that the tests themselves aren’t useful, arguing they draw attention to issues of inequity.

“If we didn’t have an opportunity to see this, it wouldn’t be as high up in our mindsets,” she said.

While some gaps have narrowed slightly among certain student groups, it’s happening at a glacial rate, said Regent Luis Reyes. He pointed to a two-year period where the gap between Hispanic students and their white peers shrunk by about 1 percent on both math and English tests.

“One percent is not a revolution, it’s not a reform, it’s not a transformation,” Reyes said. “It’s ice age.”

Reducing an emphasis on state tests in how officials judge overall school performance is part of the education department’s plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. In coming up with school ratings, officials will consider factors such as how often students are suspended, are absent from class, and how prepared they are for life after high school.

Regent Kathy Cashin said she wants to see teaching and learning take the main stage of the state’s education agenda. “The needle hasn’t moved for minority children in decades,” she said.

Elia emphasized that the test includes an essay and that it’s not “just a multiple choice test.” And she reminded the Regents that the math and English assessments are required by the federal government, but there are options to consider performance-based testing on science exams. Elia has previously shown some interest in an alternative science test.