Education Opinion

Public Schools Are Damned One Way or Another

By Walt Gardner — March 09, 2011 2 min read
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Education free marketeers are relentless in their campaign to get K-12 schools to recruit and retain the best and the brightest college graduates. To achieve this goal, they are willing to pay top dollar to top talent as long as the results are there for all to see. Yet when schools post stellar outcomes, these same reformers are quick to lash out at the salaries. It seems that schools can’t win, no matter how well they perform.

The latest example is a New York Post story about the Syosset Central School District located in Nassau County on Long Island (“She’s in a cla$$ by herself,” Mar. 6). Although the district’s schools are first-rate in every sense, residents are up in arms over the total compensation package amounting to $506,322 awarded to Carole Hankin, the 21-year veteran superintendent. (This broke down to $386,868 in salary, $67,454 in fringe benefits and $52,000 in retirement funds and expenses.) The district’s 623 classroom teachers serving 6,687 students in 10 schools are also well paid, with the Post citing an English teacher who makes $129,818.

I already know what readers are thinking. Here’s yet another example of extravagance on the part of school personnel at a time when we are still deep in the Great Recession. But there’s another side to the story that needs to be told.

If we are genuinely serious about improving educational quality, we have to make teaching in all its aspects so attractive that it becomes an irresistible career choice for the cream of the crop. I grant that Hankin’s total remuneration is very high, but on her watch Syosset’s schools have posted sterling accomplishments. Why shouldn’t she, her sub-administrators and teachers be lavishly rewarded? They work as a team to provide the students in the district with an education that is the envy of other districts. Moreover, they pay the same steep taxes that are used to support the schools.

The reaction that I see here is an example of the impossible challenge facing public schools. No matter how well they produce stipulated, desired outcomes, the faculty and administration who do so are accused of being overpaid. Yet when Wall Street hands out salaries and bonuses for results of dubious social value that make Syosset’s payroll seem like chump change, free marketeers respond it’s how the firms are able to recruit and retain the elite of colleges and universities. It’s a double standard that makes no sense.

So rather than lambaste Syosset’s board of education for the salaries and benefits it authorizes, let’s applaud the district as a model for the future.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.