ALBANY, N.Y. -- Despite retirements and layoffs, the number of teachers and administrators earning more than $100,000 a year climbed 40 percent over the past five years, state records show.
Districts also had 12,000 fewer employees between the 2008-09 school year and the 2012-13 school year, which ended June 30, according to data reviewed by Gannett's Albany Bureau from the state Teachers' Retirement System.
The cuts have largely come from the lower ranks as districts followed union rules to make cuts by seniority, leading to younger and less expensive teachers losing their positions. Schools have dealt with growing costs and limited revenue in recent years, coupled with a property-tax cap implemented last year.
Still, the records showed that the cuts haven't slowed the number of high earners. School employees earning more than $100,000 grew from 32,505 to 45,627 over the five years.
The New York State United Teachers, the teachers' union, defended the salaries, saying veteran teachers have years of experience and advanced degrees.
"Most teachers are paid fairly for their level of education and experience, but many still earn far less than they would in the private sector with jobs with similar demands and experience," said Carl Korn, the union spokesman.
The average salary for full-and part-time workers in the teacher's retirement system was $57,000 a year, up 4 percent from the 2010-11 school year.
When part-time workers are excluded, the salary is higher. The state Education Department estimated that the median salary in New York was $72,138 in the 2011-12 school year.
Carole Hankin, superintendent in Syosset on Long Island, had the highest public school salary at $511,332 for the last school year. She regularly leads the state.
E.J. McMahon, president of the fiscally conservative Empire Center for State Policy, said the number of employees earning more than $100,000 showed that schools continue to be saddled by high salaries - particularly in the New York City area. Even if schools curb raises, employees can get extra pay for longevity and continuing education.
"It's a reflection how since the great recession, salaries at the top have continued to go up," said McMahon, whose group analyzes public salaries.
Jody Siegle, executive director of the Monroe County School Boards Association, said schools have taken on more work to address new teacher evaluations and tougher standardized testing. The burden has also fallen on administrators, she said.
"The workload has increased significantly -- in the changes in curriculum and the evaluation procedures for staff. It really has, in some cases, doubled," Siegle said.
The records showed large disparities in teacher salaries in New York: highest in the wealthy areas of the state and lowest in the rural counties.
Westchester County had the highest average school salary at nearly $88,000. Second was neighboring Putnam County at $80,000, followed by Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island and then Rockland County at $71,000.
Dutchess County ranked eighth at $60,000 and Ulster County was 10th at $58,000.
Monroe, Chemung and Broome counties all had average salaries between $45,000 and $47,000. It was $34,000 in Tompkins County, ranking near the bottom of the list.
The lowest average salary was in Schuyler County, the small Finger Lakes county, at nearly $23,000.
Lisa Davis, executive director of the Westchester-Putnam School Boards Association, said the salaries in the Hudson Valley are indicative of the high cost of living.
"Cost of living really does have to be a factor," she said. "That's just the reality of where we live."
She said the average salary isn't a fair comparison because districts have many seasoned employees - which is an important factor in making a school successful.
"I always feel like the average is a little bit disingenuous because if you really had a district that only had teachers with five years or under (in experience), is that really what you would want?" Davis said.
Some city districts had higher average salaries than their suburban districts.
Yonkers had the third highest average salary in the state at nearly $103,000 - behind nearby Scarsdale at nearly $121,000 and Jericho Union on Long Island at $107,000.
Salaries in the Rochester City Schools averaged $56,570, outpacing the eastern Monroe County suburb of Pittsford at $56,201.
"We believe the primary factor is that Rochester teachers on average have more seniority than other districts," said Rochester Schools spokesman Chip Partner in an email. "Rochester has a high teacher retention rate, and, because of enrollment declines in recent years, many less-experienced teachers have been laid off."
The highest salary in Monroe County was David Dimbleby, the Hilton superintendent, at nearly $254,000. Second was Larry Ellison, a city principal, at $223,000 in the 2012-13 school year. Ellison's salary was higher than that of Superintendent Bolgen Vargas at $201,000.
Partner said that Ellision is the district's most experienced principal, has additional responsibilities and may have cashed out some unused vacation time.
Binghamton schools had an average salary of nearly $47,000. Yet the highest average salary in Broome County was at the Union-Endicott district at nearly $52,000.
Suzanne McLeod, superintendent at Union-Endicott, said about 100 positions were cut or left unfilled over the past four years; that can lead to a higher salary average because fewer workers on the rolls. She said the district hasn't increased its base salary for new teachers in at least four years.
"It's not like we've increased our salaries starting at the base," McLeod said. "I think that it's more of a reflection of a reduced workforce and more senior teachers figuring into the calculation."
The highest average salary in Dutchess County was the Red Hook School District at $68,300, ahead of the $67,600 at the Poughkeepsie schools.
Red Hook administrators said it's unfair to use an average salary to compare districts because the data can be skewed by the number of part-time or substitute teachers, as well as extra pay some teachers can receive for coaching or after-school programs.
The district said that union contracts in Dutchess County show that Red Hook has lower salaries for various step increases than Poughkeepsie or Spackenkill.
"You do have to offer a salary that would be attractive to quality teachers, but at the same time you don't want to necessarily be at the top when you're thinking about your local taxpayer," Red Hook Superintendent Paul Finch said.
-- The number of teachers and administrators earning more than $100,000 a year climbed 40 percent over the past five years, from 32,505 to 45,627.
-- Districts had 12,000 fewer employees between the 2008-09 school year and the 2012-13 school year.
-- Westchester County had the highest average school salary at nearly $88,000; the lowest was in Schuyler County at nearly $23,000.
-- The average salary for full-and part-time workers in the teacher's retirement system was $57,000 a year, up 4 percent from the 2010-11 school year.
Link to teacher salary database: