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December 01, 2009

Form 990s: Compensation at Charter Schools

In a previous entry, we posted a database of all of the available tax-filings—known as Form 990s—for New York City charter schools. Since the filings are often lengthy and complicated, we have attempted to parse some of the information. In this analysis, we examined the compensation data available in the 990s to better understand compensation as compared to traditional public schools. To see the results of our survey, you can download our spreadsheet here.

Some key findings:

• The average salary of the top earner at a charter school or CMO is $169,772. The median is $145,000. If you factor in other costs, like pensions and expense accounts, the average is $186,828 and the median is $158,928. For reference, the average superintendent salary (including regional and community superintendents) is $177,785, according to data provided by SeeThroughNY.

• The highest salary for a charter school leader or CMO executive is $494,269 ($515,258 with pension and expense accounts). The lowest salary is $86,057 (there were no listed pension or expense accounts for this person). 

• The amount of executive compensation varied significantly from school to school, with some charter schools paying their top 5 earners over $90,000 and others with only one person listed above $80,000.

• The average salary for a charter school principal is $120,454. The median is $124,000. The average salary for a DOE principal is $133,680 and the median is $133,490, according to data provided by SeeThroughNY. (Note: We did not include pension data because this was only available for charter school principals and not available for traditional DOE principals.)

Our methods:

Non-profit charter schools are required to list the top five earners at their school as well as the number of employees that make over $50,000 in their 990 filing. However, charter schools are sometimes controlled by larger Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) that are responsible for the management and backroom support of several charter schools in New York City and elsewhere. (Uncommon Schools, Inc. and Achievement First, Inc. are two examples of such CMOs). These CMOs are often the source of the compensation data for the executive directors of schools and networks of schools. Additionally, charter schools often set up related charitable organizations, usually known as “Friends of X School,” through which employees at the school are compensated in addition to the salary listed on the school’s 990 filing. Thus, in order to get as comprehensive a sense as possible of total compensation both within an individual school as well as its larger CMO, we looked at the “Related Organizations” line on the 990 and then found the tax filing for the organizations listed. (A full database of these filings is available here.) This data, combined with our original 990 database, is what we used to determine the top earner at each charter school as well as the top earner in each charter school network. (If a charter school was not run by a separate CMO, we simply used the data listed on the 990 for the school itself.)

We have listed the school’s name, the salary of the top earner as well as the salary including pension and expense accounts, the title of the top earner, and whether or not this top earner was an employee of a related organization. We have chosen not to include names, although all of this information is available on the 990 filings. In addition to this data, we also looked at the top five earners in each specific charter school to get a sense of how pay was distributed across the individual schools. Included in this analysis are the job titles of the top earners, listed in order from highest paid to lowest. Finally, we compared principal compensation at charter schools versus traditional public schools (these are the last two pages of the spreadsheet). Inconsistencies, either in reporting from a particular school or in our methodology, are noted in the spreadsheet.

As always, if you have any questions about our approach or any helpful criticism, post it in the comments section below.


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Great info. Must have been time-consuming to collect and assemble in a spreadsheet. Thanks for the doing the work ... so the rest of don't have to.

It doesn't make sense to report the CMO leader salary as the highest paid compensation at an individual school. The President of the Harlem Children's Zone oversees much more than charter schools; he's the leader of an immense social services organization. Similarly, the head of the UFT can hardly be compared to a superintendent. It would be more appropriate to create two columns: one of actual school leaders and a separate one for affiliated CMO leaders, which should also indicate how many schools the CMO is responsible for.

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