Can one person serve effectively as a school district’s superintendent and principal at the same time? What’s the impact, not just in cost but in its effect on the district’s academics?
Those are the questions being asked in the wake of the East Quogue Board of Education’s recent approval of a new four-year contract for its educational leader.
Superintendent and Principal Robert Long, who has been an administrator in the single-school district for 17 years, was the principal when he was appointed to the combined post following the 2015 resignation of part-time Superintendent Les Black. Mr. Black had worked two days a week and earned $55,000 in the final year of his contract as superintendent. He received no benefits from the district and was not in East Quogue’s retirement system.
His departure came at a difficult time for the financially stressed district. The decision to appoint Mr. Long to the combined position, as opposed to hiring another part-time superintendent, was endorsed by the East Quogue School Board at the time, because members said it would save money and also ensure that the district’s leader would be available a full five days a week, not just on a part-time basis.
Patricia Tuzzolo, who has been a member of the East Quogue School Board since 2008, was president of the School Board at the time the decision was made in 2015, and still holds the position. She said the recent decision to make the combined position permanent was based on Mr. Long’s performance over the past two years, saying that he is handling both jobs as well as expected.
“In my opinion, it’s working out fine,” Ms. Tuzzolo said. “Mr. Long has been our principal for 16, going on 17 years. He knows the kids, the families and the community.”
But Cynthia McNamara, the board’s vice president, was the lone board member out of five to oppose the permanent appointment on April 4. Ms. McNamara, who is completing her first three-year term this May, said she doesn’t believe the combined position is saving as much money as other officials are suggesting.
In the 2015-16 school year, while Mr. Long was serving as principal under Mr. Black, he collected an annual salary of $146,218 per year, plus a stipend of $9,572 for his duties as deputy superintendent, giving him a total salary of $155,790. Combined with Mr. Black’s $55,000 salary, the district was paying $210,790 for the two administrators.
Under his new contract, Mr. Long will collect a salary of $184,000 plus benefits for the current 2016-17 school year—a nearly $27,000 savings. Still, Ms. McNamara said she would prefer that the district bring back a part-time superintendent.
“We lost the whole position of oversight for the district,” she said. “And you have one person making administrative decisions for the district, outside of the board.”
Mr. Long is the only full-time administrator at East Quogue. The district’s business official, Bruce Singer, is a part-time employee and the only other administrator in the building.
Though she said she agreed with Ms. Tuzzolo that Mr. Long knows the community well, Ms. McNamara pointed out that the one-school district is still too big for one person to run alone.
“Remsenburg[-Speonk] also has an assistant principal,” she said, noting its smaller student body and larger administration. “And they have one class per grade—East Quogue has three. They can’t have one person do it—and we can? … It’s mind-boggling.”
Ms. McNamara noted that East Quogue Elementary School has 432 students enrolled for the 2016-17 school year. By comparison, Quogue and Remsenburg-Speonk, the two nearest school districts that have combined superintendent/principal positions, have 90 and 160 students, respectively, a fraction of those enrolled in East Quogue.
In Quogue, Jeffrey Ryvicker serves in both positions and earns $180,000 as part of a three-year contract inked on June 29, while, in Remsenburg-Speonk, Superintendent and Principal Ronald Masera is scheduled to make $183,071 this year—and he also has the help of Assistant Principal Adrienne Cirone.
In fact, among all school districts that are part of Eastern Suffolk BOCES—a total of 51, spanning as far west as Brentwood, and including all of Brookhaven Town and East End townships—East Quogue has the largest student population of any that are run by a single administrator serving as both superintendent and principal.
The second-largest school district with the same arrangement is Montauk, which has 311 students. Unlike East Quogue, the Montauk School District also employs an assistant principal. Following Montauk is the Shelter Island School District, which has 211 students and no assistant principal.
Ms. Tuzzolo and Christopher Hudson, another member of the East Quogue School Board said again that Mr. Long is handling the duties of both positions well.
“One of the issues with a part-time superintendent is that they were only there two days a week,” Ms. Tuzzolo said. “Now, we have an administrator there all the time—and that’s a plus.” Mr. Hudson added to that sentiment: “Does he have to work hard? Yeah. But he’s doing a great job. I haven’t heard anything but positive feedback about it as well.”
Mr. Long also said in an interview this week that he believes he has handled the combined position well throughout the course of the past two years. “With my vast experience in East Quogue, and my knowledge of the community—and, most importantly, the children—and my role as the deputy superintendent for 15 years, I’ve been listening to our community,” he said. “It was a natural fit … The challenges that I face, I think, are no different from what any other educational leader faces.
“It’s not overwhelming in the least,” he continued. “I’m excited about it. I feel very fortunate of the Board of Education’s support.”
Despite Ms. Tuzzolo’s remarks, Ms. McNamara said she is currently reviewing the upcoming 2017-18 proposed budget with the Board of Education, which she said has a 10.9-percent increase in administrative costs from the current year. She pointed out the rising costs during the April 4 special meeting, when she was the only person to vote against approving Mr. Long’s $184,000 contract.
“Numbers don’t lie,” Ms. McNamara said at the meeting. “And they don’t show a savings—quite the opposite, in fact.”
Ms. Tuzzolo said having only one administrator handling the two positions saves the district money. She also noted that Mr. Singer takes some of the workload off Mr. Long’s shoulders because he can handle the business aspect of the administration.
“We also had to be fiscally responsible over the past years, and this is a way to keep that part of a budget intact,” Ms. Tuzzolo said.
But Ms. McNamara argued that Mr. Singer's position isn't helping to save the district money, noting that when he was hired last year an additional $26,269 was added to the business administrator line in the budget.
Ms. McNamara said she wouldn’t have voted for Mr. Long’s new contract even if she could look past the issues with the combined position, because she said there wasn’t adequate discussion of the issue before the vote. She said that the Board of Education met only once, in the beginning of the process, to discuss what they would like to see in the contract. After that, it was left solely to lawyers for the school district and Mr. Long to work out.
Once the contract was complete, Ms. McNamara was informed by email on March 30 that the contract was finalized and that “most” of the board was planning to approve it. “I don’t know who that majority consisted of, or how they arrived at these figures, because there was no discussion that I was a part of,” she said.
Mr. Hudson said all of the members of the board had a fair opportunity to discuss and make suggestions about the contract. “Throughout the process, we were informed where it was at,” he said, adding that he sees it as a fair contract.
“Basically, all board members are privy to the same information, and all board members are aware of what’s going on,” Ms. Tuzzolo agreed. “So to say she was not involved in negotiations is not true.”
Under the contract, Mr. Long will receive 25 vacation days and 11 sick days annually, and the district will cover up to 85 percent of his medical costs, as long as he keeps the district’s insurance plan. He also was permitted to carry over 193.75 sick days that he previously earned and had not used during his tenure. He can accumulate up to 250 days of unused accumulated sick leave, according to his contract.
Ms. Tuzzolo said she is happy with how the contract turned out, and how Mr. Long is doing as superintendent and principal.
“I think it’s better—I think the communication is better, and I think this is what the community wanted,” Ms. Tuzzolo said. “That was strongly, strongly expressed to us at several meetings. Several people stood up on Mr. Long’s behalf.”