School workers took home $555 million more last year than they did in the previous year — and the biggest paycheck went to a rabble-rousing teacher the city has long sought to fire.
New city payroll data the Empire Center for Public Policy compiled shows the city’s total pay to school workers increased to $10.73 billion for the 2016-17 school year. That’s up from $10.18 billion the year before.
The money includes pay for teachers, principals, administrators and other school workers.
The biggest earner in the entire system was David Suker, a controversial teacher and activist the city has spent years trying to fire.
Suker, 49, of Manhattan, started working in city schools in 1998 and said he hasn’t had a regular job in a classroom since November 2011, when the city removed him from his special-education teaching post following his arrest at an Occupy Wall Street protest.
Payroll records show the city paid Suker $362,647 in the 2016-17 school year while he bounced from school to school as an unassigned teacher. That total includes Suker’s salary of $98,485 plus about $264,000 in backpay for nearly three years his salary was docked while he was tied up in disciplinary hearings.
But Suker, a veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, said the money doesn’t make up for the stress of being assigned to rubber rooms for years on end.
“All the money in the world can’t repay me for what I’ve been through,” he said. “It’s nice to be compensated, but nothing can repay me for the stress and anguish.”
A hearing officer in December 2015 ruled against the city in its bid to fire Suker, but the Education Department still won’t give him a regular job, he said. Suker is taking a sabbatical this year to study history and education. He’s on the city payroll, receiving a portion of his salary, and will return to full pay in 2018.
Education Department spokesman Will Mantell said any increase in payroll includes salary increases as part of the 2014 teachers’ contract as well as contracts with other school and central staff.
The $555 million increase represents a 5.2% jump in the department’s overall payroll spending and does not include benefits.
Mantell said that increasing test scores, grad rates and participation in Advanced Placement classes are proof that the city’s school spending is working.
“We’ve invested in public school students, and we’re seeing results —free, full-day pre-K for every 4-year-old, record numbers of kids taking and passing AP exams, and record-high graduation rates,” Mantell said.