Super superintendent pensions soar over $200,000 for 12 Hudson Valley schools chiefs

| The Journal News

As the cost of public school leadership continues its inexorable rise, so do the taxpayer-funded pensions received by educators when they retire.

In fact, the number of educators receiving $200,000 or more annually in the Hudson Valley alone doubled in the last five years to 12.

Overall, 52 educators from the Hudson Valley in 2018 were eligible for pensions of $160,000 or more, according to a report issued by SeeThroughNY, an online project of the Empire Center for Public Policy in Albany.

The latest listing by the center comes five years after the state Court of Appeals ruled that the New York State Teachers Retirement System was required to release information about its pensioners. The data shows the maximum benefit that individual pensioners can earn.

The number of highly paid pensioners here has doubled since 2014, when just six educators who were eligible for more than $200,000 and 22 Hudson Valley educators were eligible for more than $160,000.

“It’s only going to grow,” said Empire Center Research Director E.J. McMahon. “They have sweet pension benefits, and that’s the way it goes.”

Teachers and administrators hired before 2012 in New York can retire at age 55 and at least 20 years of service. Many administrators receive free or reduced health-care benefits for life upon retirement. Some augment their pensions with taxpayer-financed retirement annuities.

New York educators are also in the Social Security system, so they receive those retirement benefits as well.

Top pensions

Mustich was the 12th highest in the state, with retired Commack Superintendent James Felton topping the list at $326,826, and former Purchase resident Carole Hankin, who retired as Syosset superintendent in 2013, the third highest, at $320,368 a year.

Other top Hudson Valley retirees include:

  • Rockland – Pearl River Superintendent Frank Auriemma, $212,442, who retired in 2011.
  • Putnam: Carmel Superintendent James Ryan, $203,214, who retired in 2015.
  • Dutchess: Beacon Superintendent Vito DiCesare, $161,574, who retired in 2006.

Not just superintendents

Among 52 Hudson Valley educators receiving more than $160,000 in pension benefits, there were three school principals, a Rockland Community College physical educator professor, and the chief operating officer of Southern Westchester BOCES.

Five were from Scarsdale, including former Assistant Principal Sue Peppers, who received in 2016 and receives $163,657 in pension benefits.

Two on the list have returned to public service while collecting their pensions.

Amy Goodman, the former superintendent of the Greenburgh-Graham district, who retired in 2017 and receives $195,420 in pension benefits, works at New Rochelle’s interim assistant superintendent for student support services, where she makes $205,000.

Interim Hastings-on-Hudson Superintendent Charles Wilson retired from leading the Pelham schools for 13 years in 2008. Since then he has kept involved in education leadership, serving as interim superintendent in Pelham and Tuckahoe since his retirement. Wilson, 72, began his education career in Pelham in 1968, teaching middle school social studies.

Wilson, who will receive almost $169,000 in pension payments this year, will also receive $255,000 a year as Hastings’ school chief.

With medical benefits from his Pelham retirement, and his status as pension recipient, the school districts pays neither for health insurance nor contributes to his retirement. That’s savings estimated at $40,000.

“I’m getting paid well here, but it’s a bargain for the school district,” said Wilson.

The New York Teacher Retirement System is the nation’s 10th largest, with $120 billion in benefit, and provides benefits to 430,000 educators. Over the past 30 years, the system has paid out $114 billion in benefits while collecting $32 billion in employee and employer contributions.

Investment returns in recent years have helped moderate taxpayer contributions to the fund. For the 2019-20 school year, district contributions will decline from 10.62 percent to 8.86 percent – a 17 percent drop.