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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

Nice work if you can get it

So where do you sign up for the six-figure buyout?
For most working people, joblessness — and the resulting loss of income and benefits — is something to be feared.
But there’s a certain subset of people who often stand to gain from unemployment.
I’m talking about CEOs, coaches and high-ranking school administrators.
These people often make out like bandits when they fall out of favor with the people who sign their paychecks.
Take Niskayuna schools Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio.
Her “voluntary separation” from the district includes a $139,000 lump-sum payment, as well as health insurance through June 30, 2015, the end of her contract, or until she receives comparable health insurance.
School board members provided few clues as to what led to the school board’s decision to part ways with Salvaggio, whose agreement includes a prepared letter of recommendation as well as a provision that the district make no disparaging remarks about her. In a brief statement, the district attributed the superintendent’s departure to “certain philosophical differences [that] have arisen relating to expected performance.”
Those philosophical differences will ultimately add up to a nice chunk of change.
Nice for Salvaggio, that is.
But not so nice for the taxpayers of Niskayuna.
If I sound irritated, it’s probably because I’m jealous.
I like my job, but I’d be delighted if someone gave me $139,000 to take an extended vacation. I’d happily clear out my desk, then go home and book a vacation to a far-flung and exciting locale. Upon my return, I’d spend my days doing all the things I like to do in my leisure time, such as reading and writing. I’d finish hiking the high peaks of the Adirondacks. I’d spend more time in the garden and more time cooking.
Perhaps I’m looking at this the wrong way, but when a school board is willing to pay its superintendent to get out of town, doesn’t that create an incentive to fail? If I were a school superintendent, I’d probably spend half my time trying to think up ways to run afoul of the school board so that I could get a buyout and take a trip to Europe. On particularly trying days, I’d probably look out my window and wonder which school to propose closing, so as to sow discord and unhappiness throughout the district.
“Maybe then I’ll get a buyout,” I would think.
Superintendent buyouts are not unusual.
One of the more undeserving buyout recipients in recent memory is former Schenectady school superintendent Eric Ely, who in June 2010 received $144,500 to leave. He immediately landed a superintendent job in Southbridge, Mass., but it didn’t take long for his relationship with that district to sour, and in November 2012 he was placed on paid administrative leave, which sounds pretty nice, although not as nice as a six-figure buyout. In early 2013, he resigned.
I don’t know exactly why Salvaggio’s tenure ended 15 months early, though there were signs of trouble last summer when two board members voted against extending her contract. And it’s been an unusually contentious year in the district. Voters defeated the original 2013-2014 budget proposal last May and a plan — later abandoned — to close Birchwood Elementary School proved controversial.
Now, $139,000 might not sound like much compared to the sort of mind-bogglingly lucrative exit packages — often referred to as golden parachutes — that you see in the corporate world.
Such as the $64.6 million exit package Yahoo gave chief operating officer Henrique de Castro in January to leave the company amid disappointment with his performance. Or the nearly $80 million that Time Warner CEO Robert Marcus stands to receive if he completes his company’s proposed sale to Comcast and loses his job.
But in a state where the median household income is $57,683, $139,000 is a lot of money.
I can think of plenty of things to do with that money, including saving for retirement and buying a car.
Again, where do I sign up?
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at or 395-3193. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at

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