According to a new report by the Empire Center, an independent think tank, Rockville Centre School District Superintendent Dr. William Johnson was the highest-paid school employee in New York state in 2011-12, but the president of the district’s Board of Education said that the report is not accurate.
The report, which used information from a searchable online database at www.SeeThroughNY.net, stated that Johnson was paid $567,248 last year. But according to school board President Liz Dion, Johnson’s salary was $321,000.
In 2005, Johnson negotiated a five-year contract with the district that guaranteed a 4 percent raise each year. The contract also had an “evergreen” clause, which meant that at the end of each year, another year would be added to it so it would always cover five years.
In 2009, the school board asked Johnson to forgo the annual raise, which he did, and in 2011, Dion said, the board realized that continuing the contract as it was would not be feasible. Johnson agreed to renegotiate, she said, which led to a four-year contract with his salary frozen at its 2011 level, $321,000.
Dion added that the new contract would help the district save more than $187,000 over its term as a result of the lack of salary increases, a higher contribution rate for health care benefits and the removal of Johnson’s ability to buy back unused vacation days.
As a part of the renegotiation, Johnson was allowed access to a lump sum of $300,000 in retirement funds that was agreed upon in the 2005 contract in lieu of paying him for 372 sick days he had accrued. According to a press release from the board on July 5, 2011, those funds, which had already been budgeted and accrued during the term of the 2005 contract, did not create any additional taxpayer expense and did not add to Johnson’s pension.
“He’s been with us for more than 30 years, and [salaries] accumulate over time,” Dion said. “Dr. Johnson is incredibly valuable. Our district is ranked 22nd nationwide because of his leadership.”
Johnson was hired by the school district in 1979, and has been superintendent for 25 years.
Schools on Long Island had the highest average pay by region in the state, at $73,949, according to the Empire Center report. The average pay for school employee includes teachers and administrators as well as custodians, aides and bus drivers.
“The cost of living on Long Island is possibly also the highest in the state,” Dion said. “We need to pay our teachers so they can live here. In Rockville Centre, we’ve done our best to recognize the issues of our high taxes.”