Big Smoke

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The New York Daily News has run a salacious piece on Thomas Galante’s salary as part-time head of the Queens Library. At a time when librarians haven’t seen a raise in five years and 250 positions were eliminated, Galante was making almost $400,000 working as head of the institution, a position he only kept for 20 hours a week. This allowed him to make almost $200,000 on a consulting gig on Long Island as well. As the Daily News reported:

Galante countered that his “competitive” pay assured that “in two, four years I don’t bounce to someplace else, because I’ve got kids to put through college like anybody else.”

Those custodians and librarians who lost their jobs under Galante also had kids to put through college, Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal noted.

Respondents to this piece noted that you get what you pay for, and executive positions are well-paid because of the stress and difficult decisions inherent in the job. Indeed, the public sector has indeed suffered in the last few decades of a brain drain, due to their inability to offer competitive wages for commensurate experience. However, I’ve noticed a different result in my experiences in the public sector.

The budget of one of the public schools I worked at was $1.5 million annually; I know this because, beyond the payroll and purchasing secretaries, I was privy to the number as technology received whatever was left after all else was taken care of. Salaries are paid off that same budget, and all salaries are searchable through an internal database to keep employees honest. The principal made $150,000, and each assistant principal, three in total, made $100,000. This put the administrative costs of my school at close to a third of the budget overall. This was a hard pill to swallow when it came to such indignities as having to photocopy textbooks for lack of money to order new ones, and to bring our own paper in for lack of supplies even to photocopy the textbooks.

The principal chose to allocate her budget in such a way in order to shelter herself from the responsibility of the difficult decisions she had to make in terms of running the school, as well as to delegate the task of playing to the school system’s grading rubric for schools. Just as students were taught towards a test, so too did the principals administer towards an audit. The end result was a lot of money spent for very little results in terms of demonstrated student ability. While the idea was that able administrators could work miracles, and that by doing such they deserved high pay, high pay does not inherently make people able administrators. Just as these four administrators were not worth the nineteen teachers laid off in the two years I worked there, so too is Thomas Galante not worth the 250 librarians and support staff eliminated under his tutelage.

Of course, a public school principal is small fry compared to Thomas Galante, and Thomas Galante is likewise small fry compared to the egregious salaries and benefits pulled by private sector executives. His graft is nothing compared to the likes of Goldman Sachs or Citigroup executives, and indeed is dwarfed by several orders of magnitude, but it’s not entirely about the money. Another way of looking at it is such: Public school principals are unionized, but in a different union than teachers or support staff. They are a part of the Council of School Administrators, whereas the teachers are part of the United Federation of Teachers and the support staff of District Council 37.

No matter how big the budget crunch, no CSA’s been laid off; only UFT and DC37. When 1,500 staff were laid off in 2009 and 2011, no administrators were part of the culling. In 1975, during New York’s infamous budget crunch, 14,000 teacher positions were eliminated but not one administrator was cut. That’s not a wage difference: That’s a class difference.

It’s that class difference that I see when I read Galante’s statements about his expectations of his job. It reminded me of working in another public school where the principal complained about a delivery truck blocking in her Mercedes in its private parking space in the loading docks, before finagling a means not to pay overtime to teachers who regularly worked late to meet the demands of oversized classes. Secure in the knowledge that, unlike her underlings, the challenges of the system would not in any way adversely affect her income, the principal certainly had all the trappings of someone on the top of their field; only lacking was she in the ability.

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