LONG ISLAND, N.Y. – Current and former school administrators in New York’s Nassau and Suffolk counties continue to top the list for highest educator pensions in the state, with several taking in over $300,000 annually.
At the top of the list is former Commack superintendent James Feltman, 66, who receives the maximum pension of $325,854 per year, while Sheldon Karnilow, 66, takes home $322,650 as the former head of Half Hollow Hills school district, Newsday reports.
Some of those who top the state’s educator pension list, however, are collecting a salary and their pension , and are bringing in over a half million dollars per year.
James Hunderfund, 70, retired as Commack superintendent in 2006 to collect a pension of $316,929, then took a position the next year as interim superintendent in Malverne. Hunderfund will be paid $235,238 from Malverne next school year in an arrangement that also includes $37,594 in benefits and other pay, the news site reports.
“All of this points back to the unsustainability of the state’s pension system,” Tim Hoefer, executive director of the Empire Center for Public Policy, told Newsday.
The list of New York’s educator pensions was composed by Newsday from data collected from the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System through a Freedom of Information Law request and includes the 2013 figures for 147,000 school administrators, teachers and other education professionals.
The list also comes after officials with the retirement system announced in February that school districts will be forced to pay “a rate of 17.53 percent of every dollar paid for the 2014-15 fiscal year,” according to the news site.
And despite some changes to the pension system in recent years to control costs, such as requiring higher contributions from employees, the pension perks of yesteryear continue to haunt taxpayers.
“Many who enrolled in the system before July 1973, known as ‘Tier 1’ employees, receive pensions substantially larger than their final salaries. Before lawmakers changed the rules that year, educators were allowed to factor in extra compensation, such as pay for unused vacation and sick leave, in calculating their pensions,” Newsday reports.
“For example, Feltman’s listed base salary was $263,000 when he retired in 2010, but his contract allowed him to be paid for up to 185 days of unused sick leave.”
Several of top pension recipients in the New York teacher retirement system spent four decades or more working in the public school system, and took on regional roles, such as president of a county superintendent’s association. Most of the list’s top recipients weren’t interested in talking about their payouts with Newsday, but at least one – Ronald Friedman, who served as superintendent for three different school districts throughout his career – defended his retirement.
“My colleagues who worked for 40 or more years have steadfastly improved education for children on Long Island, and helped make Long Island one of the most desirable places for people to live,” Friedman, ranked eighth on the pension list, told the news site.
Meanwhile, public policy groups are citing the eye-opening educator pension list as evidence of the need to change the system over to a 401(k) type plan more common in the private sector.
“Look what happened over the last five years – we saw pension payments skyrocket,” the Empire Center’s Hoefer told Newsday. “And this is all to maintain a system that has mostly disappeared in the private sector.
Of course, teachers union officials see things differently.
“Every public employee should have a dignified retirement,” according to Carl Korn, spokesman for the New York State United Teachers.