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Resident Challenges Superintendent at Syosset BOE Meeting

The Syosset Central School District budget may have passed with 71 percent approval last month, but some residents still want answers regarding the hot-button issue. One such citizen, Peter Ennis, chose to voice his concerns directly to the Board of Education during the Audience to the Public portion at the monthly Board of Education Meeting at South Woods Middle School on June 6.

Ennis, a parent of two Syosset graduates, spoke of his dismay over ongoing confusion surrounding Superintendent Carole Hankin’s salary. The salary, a topic of debate prior to the budget vote, has been much publicized thanks to mention in a February speech by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“The cornerstone, it seems to me, of good government is transparency and accountability,” Ennis said. “We cannot afford, in this day and age of tight budgets, even the slightest appearance of impropriety. Everything has to be out in the open, in the light of day. I’m sorry to say that I don’t think the board has handled Dr. Hankin’s salary in that manner.” Ennis went on to say that the exact figure of Hankin’s yearly earnings is “very unclear.”

“Is it $405,000 or is it $386,000?” he asked. “It seems to me that there are only two possibilities. One is that the salary is $405,000, in which case the board did not tell anyone that and allowed the Governor, our highest elected official, the media, and the district residents to go under the impression that the salary was significantly lower than that. Why this was never clarified is beyond me.”

The resident floated a second option, one that prompted a direct denial from Hankin during her rebuttal. “The other possibility is that the salary this year is $386,000, in which case there is a salary increase for next year, in which case the district residents were led to believe that there was a districtwide freeze which does not apply to Dr. Hankin,” he mused.

Ennis called for the board to offer a full report on the total compensation received by the Superintendent during the last decade. He also requested that Hankin’s employment contract be placed on the district’s website.

Hankin, though visibly frustrated with the never-say-die nature of the salary issue, offered a response that was filled with sharp declarations.

She noted that detailed information on her salary can be found in the “Syosset Central School District Report Card, a book that can be found in every school. A page in the book includes her salary (which is $405,244). According to Hankin, her salary was also posted online and on the budget line as part of the “Superintendent’s office line.”

The confusion, according to Hankin, is based on people looking at two different numbers and not “knowing what they’re reading.” The Superintendent called attention to a New York State website that requires schools to post salaries by May 9. Because the Syosset Superintendent salary is determined in June or later, the number posted in May is, in effect, last year’s figure.

“I want to make it so clear that nobody can walk out of here thinking there’s a raise,” Hankin said. “I must have said this a thousand, million times, there’s no raise. Let’s just leave it at that. There is not a penny raise for next year.”

Hankin claims that she turned down any sort of a raise well before any of the bad press surrounding Cuomo’s speech and other unflattering reports began. The inflated numbers causing confusion, she said, is based on the addition of benefits that are misleading when taken as a base salary.

“When you see a number, that’s because they added it all in,” Hankin said. “Any of you in the audience here that has ever received a paycheck, when someone says to you ‘how much are you earning?’ I don’t think there’s anyone in this room who ever added in his or her Social Security, Medicare, health from your employer, and dental from your employer. You say what you think you’re earning, which is your salary, which I think is correct.”  

She addressed Cuomo’s comments as well:

“He (Cuomo) didn’t call me and ask me my salary,” she said. “Whoever gave him the information is incorrect. The Governor went off and did his thing, which was fine, he’s the Governor…the only thing I’m responsible [for], which I am, is the education and the well-being of our children here.”

Hankin’s answer appeared to satisfy those in the crowd, prompting applause and head nods. However, Ennis was not one of the many who found the superintendent’s answer acceptable.  

“I think the fact that there was wrong information out there on an official New York State website is unacceptable,” Ennis told the Syosset-Jericho Tribune after the meeting. “It’s up to the board to correct any misinformation that’s floating around. Clearly, the people in this district were under the impression that the Superintendent’s salary was $386,000, then we found out that it was almost $20,000 more. We should have known that.”

The Ennis-Hankin exchange marked the only point in the meeting that wasn’t celebratory. After quick reports by Hankin, the district treasury department, and the Nutrition Advisory Board, an auditorium full of parents were treated to a presentation by elementary school students showcasing inventions they had thought up as part of the science fair. The meeting continued with five high school coaches showcasing their team’s accomplishments this school year.

Trustee Fern T. Resnick participated in her final school board meeting after six years, choosing to leave to spend more time with her family.

“This is a great community,” Resnick told the Tribune. “I just hope it stays that way. With all the pressures around us from the state and federal government, we all worry about that.”  

The next board of education meeting will be held on July 6 at 8 p.m. in the South Woods Middle School Auditorium.