Darien’s public employees among best paid in the state

If school administrators get their way, Darien will be shelling out an additional $70,000 among the 24 union members who all make six-figure salaries and are top earners in their field across the state.

School administrators, which includes principals and department directors but excludes central office staff, collectively took home more than $3.5 million last year, which averages $147,270 each. The Board of Education would like to pay these administrators the same amount during the 2014-15 school year, but the union would like a 2% raise, which would equal more than $70,000.

At an arbitration hearing in January, Tom Mooney, the schools’ attorney, said Darien already has “the most highly compensated administrators in the state.”

A look at state data could confirm Mooney’s claim. Darien pays its school and town employees the second-highest salaries of any town in the state, second only to Norwalk, according to 2012 statistics from the Connecticut Department of Labor. Darien employees earned an average of $67,871 that year, the most recent year that data are available.

In Fairfield County, the average municipal wage was $59,389, data showed. Connecticut also pays its administrators some of the highest salaries in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Additionally, Darien had 97 fewer employees than New Canaan in 2012, yet spent almost $1 million more on employee salaries.

The school board, the first selectman, the Board of Finance chairman and The Darien Times have all voiced opinions against raises for the administration.

The two parties entered into arbitration in January because an agreement couldn’t be made. Mooney bills Darien $380 per hour, and spent 16 hours over two days debating the merits of the school board’s position with John Gesmonde, the union’s lawyer.

Mooney’s firm, Shipman & Goodwin, billed Darien $4,185.50 for work on the new contract with administrators from August through November. December and January legal bills were not yet available. Mooney said the union didn’t come to the table with its terms until December. Gesmonde has declined to comment, as has the union’s co-president, Carleen Wood, who is also the district’s assistant director of special education.

Darien was found to have violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act on at least 32 occasions last school year, according to a report by Chicago attorney Sue Gamm. The school board argues that the special education crisis has created a climate of distrust among parents toward the district, and a raise at this time would only deepen the divide. Administrators claim that accepting the same salary two years in a row would be akin to admitting fault for the illegal activities.

Originally published in The Darien Times.

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