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Buffalo school admins get raises – and criticism from School Board president

Top-level administrators for Buffalo Public Schools are getting raises averaging 5%.

The pay increases for 26 of the superintendent’s cabinet members and staff range anywhere from 2.5% to as much as 12.9% and will cost the school district a total of $185,210, according to figures provided by the school district.

Superintendent Kriner Cash said the raises bring salaries into line with those at peer school districts and keep Buffalo competitive for attracting top talent. Cash said his staff is doing a good job.

“They have done some extraordinary work on the academic side and some extremely good work on the business side,” he said.

The raises were given at the discretion of the superintendent and approved Wednesday by the Board of Education, but not without questioning. Much of the scrutiny came from School Board President Sharon Belton-Cottman, who thought the raises were being “rammed down the board’s throat” without enough discussion.

Belton-Cottman said the four-year graduation rate in the district has yet to crack 70% and that pay increases for top administrators should be tied to certain expectations.

“I want to make sure if we’re spending extra money we get something out of it,” Belton-Cottman said.

“We have not seen a significant increase in the graduation rate over the past four years and that’s the merit I’m talking about,” Belton-Cottman said. “The adults are still getting paid, the children didn’t get educated but no one is holding that person accountable.”

She also pointed out that Cash’s staff received a 2.5% cost of living adjustment in 2018.

The conversation over compensation turned testy, first between Cash and Belton-Cottman, then Belton-Cottman and North District Board Member Hope Jay.

Jay said it’s the superintendent’s staff and she trusted his judgement on the matter.

“You’re overreaching again,” Jay told Belton-Cottman. “This is not in your purview."

“We have to ask questions about money that is being spent in this district,” Belton-Cottman shot back.

At-Large Board Member Ann Rivera questioned whether these dollars are resources that are being taken away from the classroom, while Board Member Terrance Heard asked how it was determined who got what.

Cash said it was a cost of living adjustment, but for some it was that plus more based on increased responsibility or performance. Heard asked to convene in executive session to discuss in more detail.

Once board members re-emerged from behind closed doors, the board approved the raises – retroactive to July 1 – by a vote of 8 to 1.

Belton-Cottman was the lone no vote.

Salaries for the 31 “exempt employees” total $3.8 million, according to figures from the district.

That includes salaries of Cash’s cabinet members:

  • Darren Brown-Hall, chief of staff, who will earn $185,000, up 6.15%
  • Nathaniel Kuzma, general counsel, who will earn $175,000, up 6.7%
  • Will Keresztes, chief of intergovernmental affairs, planning and community engagement, $166,843, up 5%
  • Anne Botticelli, $165,000, up 7.3%
  • James Weimer, chief operating officer, $160,000, up 4.05%
  • Sabatino Cimato, associate superintendent, $160,000, up 7.6%
  • Geoffrey Pritchard, chief financial officer, $160,000, up 7.6%
  • Casandra Wright, associate superintendent, $160,000, up 7.6%
  • Genelle Morris, chief accountability officer, $150,697, up 5%
  • Jamie Warren, associate superintendent for human resources, $150,697, up 5%
  • Darlene Jesonowski, associate superintendent, $140,000, up 3.7%
  • Phyllis Morrell, $140,000
  • Tonja Williams, associate superintendent, $140,000
  • Contann Dabney, $135,000
  • Anibal Soler, $125,000, up 4.17%
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