WILSON – The only school district in Western New York to be operating on a contingency budget for the upcoming school year granted its superintendent a pay raise and new benefits.
Wilson Superintendent Michael S. Wendt, whose pay had been frozen for the past three years, received a 3 percent raise for each of the next four years, unless some other pay level is negotiated by him and the Board of Education.
Wendt’s new five-year contract, obtained by The Buffalo News through a Freedom of Information request, also gives him a tax-sheltered annuity, a life insurance policy, a longevity payment and district-paid long-term care insurance, the latter taking the place of health insurance coverage for the first two years of the deal.
The new contract was approved at a June 11 School Board meeting that took place between the voters’ first and second rejections of the proposed 2013-14 budget.
“It’s public knowledge, and I haven’t any complaints about it,” said Timothy F. Kropp, the former School Board president, who was defeated in the May election and left office at the end of June.
“I’ve heard people say, ‘You’ve got to pay the position.’ You want somebody good, you’ve got to pay for him,” Kropp said.
Research by The News through the statewide website seethroughny.net, operated by the Empire Center for New York State Policy, indicates that since 2010, Wendt is the only superintendent in the region to receive a new contract in the same year his district’s budget was defeated.
“My contract isn’t contingent on the budget,” Wendt said. “Obviously, I want to work in Wilson, and I want to be competitive with what’s out there.”
Kropp said he made a study of other superintendents’ contracts before negotiating Wendt’s new deal. He said the trade-offs in the contract, such as long-term care insurance in place of two years of family health coverage, “are budget-neutral for the district.”
“I don’t get certain subscriptions or memberships that I used to get,” said Wendt, who contended that the long-term care swap for health coverage saves the district about $2,000.
The contract sets Wendt’s base salary for 2013-14 at $144,471, which is a 3 percent increase from the $140,263 salary he had drawn for the previous three years.
“How long do you negotiate a zero-percent contract?” Kropp asked. “We were optimistic this budget would pass. There were a lot of underlying factors why this budget went down.”
Wendt also receives a $8,500 longevity payment this year, a figure that increases $1,000 a year until 2016-17. Under the former contract, the longevity payment was $6,500. The district makes a $3,000 annual payment to a tax-sheltered annuity, a figure that increased from $1,500 in Wendt’s last deal.
The district also pays $11,000 a year toward a split-dollar life insurance policy for seven years, as well as reimbursing him $1,000 toward Wendt’s pre-existing life insurance policy.
The long-term care cost is $4,710 per year. When Wendt is receiving health insurance, the full cost is paid by the district. Up until 2011, the district’s cost was capped at $12,000 a year.
The health care for Wendt and his wife continues at the district’s cost until he turns 65. Kropp said former contracts kept that benefit going until age 70.
The Newfane School District is sharing Wendt’s services until at least Sept. 30 while Newfane looks for a new superintendent. During that period, Newfane pays 49 percent of Wendt’s salary and benefits, or $10,374 per month.