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Published in Print: September 9, 1998, as Crew's Salary in New York Soars to $245,000

Crew's Salary in New York Soars to $245,000

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When it comes to compensating its top executive, the nation's largest school system now pays what may well be the nation's largest salary.

Thanks to a $50,000 raise he received last month, Chancellor Rudolph F. Crew now earns $245,000 a year as the head of the 1.1 million-student New York City district. That figure appears to be tops among big-city schools chiefs--and perhaps among superintendents nationwide.

In its resolution unanimously endorsing Mr. Crew's new contract, the city school board said it aimed "to provide compensation commensurate with the responsibilities of the position and the demands of the market." The head of a national school administrators' group called the raise--the first for the position of New York City schools chief since 1990--long overdue.

Still, the chancellor's pay package has become a bone of contention in the district's contract talks with the union that represents some 4,000 New York City principals, assistant principals, and other supervisors. As its members entered their third school year without a raise, the union chief called the timing of the pay hike "insensitive."

No national education experts interviewed last week said they knew definitively that the 47-year-old chancellor's salary was No. 1 in the country. But two recent surveys suggest that it may be.

A survey last year by the Council of the Great City Schools, an urban education advocacy group based in Washington, found that superintendents' salaries in its member districts ranged from $103,000 to $199,800. The top earner at that time was the head of the Miami-Dade County schools, Roger C. Cuevas. Mr. Cuevas now earns $215,784 as the superintendent of the Florida district, which with an estimated 350,000 students is the nation's fourth-largest system.

The Miami figure also ranked first in a broader sampling of 1997-98 superintendent salaries in 877 urban, suburban, and rural districts. That survey was conducted by the Educational Research Service in Arlington, Va.

Old Pay Called 'Laughable'

In Los Angeles, the No. 2 district with more than 680,000 students, Superintendent Ruben Zacarias makes $178,000. That salary is expected to rise soon, though, under a pay-for-performance provision in his contract.

And in Chicago, the third-largest system with 430,000 students, Chief Executive Officer Paul G. Vallas has earned $150,000 annually since coming aboard in 1995.

Paul D. Houston, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, in Arlington, Va., said he considered Mr. Crew's previous $195,000-a-year figure "a laughable salary for the level of responsibility" that goes with overseeing a $9 billion budget and more than 105,000 employees.

Mr. Houston predicted that Mr. Crew's raise would exert little pressure on the pay of superintendents elsewhere, because "New York is so unique that it's applicability to everybody else is minimal."

Mr. Crew's raise came after the school board assessed his performance since signing on in October 1995 as "excellent." His basic contract, which is retroactive to July of this year, runs for two years, but includes two optional, one-year extensions that cover the terms of his employment through 2002.

Besides his salary, the chancellor lives rent-free in a district-owned Brooklyn Heights brownstone and has the use of a car and driver.

The board said the contract would help "ensure that the many school reforms undertaken by the chancellor will continue to successful completion" and "provide vital long-term stability."

A spokesman for board President William C. Thompson pointed out that if Mr. Crew remains for the full four years covered by the pact, he will have served longer than any New York City schools chief in 40 years.

'Morale Is Shot'

The city's affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, which has more than two years left on its contract, said Mr. Crew's raise shows that the school board "values its educators."

"We only hope that the board will keep that in mind with teachers when it's time to negotiate the next contract," said Ronnie L. Davis, a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers.

But Donald Singer, the president of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators, criticized the timing of Mr. Crew's nearly 26 percent pay hike.

Mr. Singer said the head of the nation's biggest district deserved to earn more than his counterparts elsewhere. But he said "morale is shot" among the union membership in the wake of the announcement.

In response to Mr. Singer's remarks, a top district official said members of the administrators' union could win their own sizable increase by sacrificing some job protections and accepting greater responsibility.

He said the district would present the union with a detailed contract proposal reflecting that trade-off this week.

"The chancellor's contract is a model for what we're trying to do for them: higher compensation and very high expectations," said Lewis H. Spence, the district's deputy chancellor for operations.

Meanwhile, Mr. Crew said in a statement that he was "very grateful" for his new contract. He said in his first three years he had "helped lay a new foundation for systemic reform."

"But over the next few years," he added, "I have to do the heavier lifting that will institutionalize the work we started."

Vol. 18, Issue 1, Page 3

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Web Resources
  • The Council of the Great City Schools interviewed its member districts to determine the tenure and salaries of its Superintendents. Read the results of the October 1997 study, "Urban Indicator".
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