Nice Work If U Can Get It

What’s behind those sky high charter salaries?

Harlem Village Academies chief Deborah Kenny earns $500,000 to run her burgeoning empire of excellence.

The eye-popping salaries commanded by some New York City charter execs are raising eyebrows, not to mention the hackles of haters. As a state-of-the-art technology known as Google quickly reveals, though, it’s not just in the Big Apple where charter chiefs are pulling down mad cheddar. But talking about money is so gauche, reader, which is why so many of these excellent execs insist on keeping compensation information to themselves. 

A deeper dive
Today’s fiercely urgent question: why do charter executives make so much money? Fortunately this question has many simple answers. 1) You can’t put a price on excellence 2) You are a hater for even asking the question and 3) What don’t you understand about putting students fir$t? But seriously, there is a major difference between the New York City schools chancellor, who oversees schools attended by 1.1 million students and the executive of five outstanding schools—$286K more by my calculations, which is practically enough to pay yet another excellent exec’s salary. So what exactly do these excellent execs do all day? Let’s take a *deeper dive,* shall we?

Buzz bucks
$599K might seem a little steep for running a mini-empire of schools. But when you consider that Harlem Village chief Deborah Kenny  happens to oversee schools in between media appearances, that pile of gold doesn’t gleam quite as brightly. Oprah Winfrey, another celeb with a taste for school improvement, recently named Kenny to her Power List—and she makes $165 million clams per annum. And anyone who has a *media buzz* list as long as the one on the Harlem Village Academies website deserves to be getting paid…

Let’s get physical 
In the old days, running a school required little more exertion than occasionally commandeering the blender from the teachers’ lounge (just until after school hours, ladies). But the new breed of excellent charter executive is a far more physically active lot. Take number two on the New York Daily News most compensated list: Eva Moskowitz. A recent day found the chieftainess of the unbelievably successful Success Academies marching across the Brooklyn Bridge because she has that much energy. In her *invitation* to parents and teachers to join her, Moskowitz noted that “we can’t stand idly by.” Tell that to the teachers and leaders of NYC’s 1,700 public schools, none of whom even showed up! 

Pay 4 performance
Haters have been quick to point out that, based on the number of students who *attrit* from New York City’s laboratories of outstandingness, such high charter salaries don’t exactly add up to *pay for performance*. To them I say: squelch your hate, haters! You obviously don’t understand the unique numeracy of merit. Take number 11 on the most compensated list: Seth Andrews, chiefain emeritus of Democracy Prep. 100% of the students at Democracy Prep graduated last year, which is to say 100% of the students who were left after 23% of the students had left each year. In other words: 100% of 100% = $238,000. 

Did I say principal? I meant partner
Number 15 on the list, Rafiq Kalam Id-Din, earns $219K to run a school with fewer than 200 students. That may seem a bit rich until you consider that Kalam Id-Din isn’t a principal at all but a partner in the Teaching Firm of America Professional Preparatory Charter School. Here’s how it works:

TFOA will use its innovative management structure called the “Teaching Firm” to operate its charter school, one that takes advantage of the unique strengths of the professional-partnership organizational model to maximize the acquisition, development and retention of top human capital to serve our students, achieve our mission and realize our vision.

At the top of that innovative management structure is a familiar figure know as *the partner* who, at least according to the many John Grisham novels I’ve read, almost always gets paid. Speaking of Grisham, who can forget his action-filled page-turner, The Co-Locator, about a rich and powerful law firm that moves into the HQ of a community legal services office? 

Students Fir$t
There are some other familiar names on the list too, of course: the comically well-connected Dacia Toll of Achievement Fir$t, Dave Levin of KIPP, or Keep the Income Pump Primed, NY. But is it really fair to single them out merely for doing well by doing good? The members of the NYC’s most compensated list could all learn a thing or two from the first lady of putting students first: Michelle Rhee, who in 2012 earned $94K for the 13 hours per week she puts in at Students First. Perhaps Rhee should start a school to teach some of these leading leaders about how to do even weller…

Is your state or city home to an excellent charter executive who is being compensated at rates that some might consider, ahem, excessive? Send info to

The Nice Work if U Can Get It List

  • Minneapolis, MN: Eric Mahmoud, SEED Academy/Harvest Prep, $273,000, more than any superintendent in Minnesota.
  • Boston, MA: Roger Harris, Boston Renaissance Charter School, $280,000. John McDonough, the interim superintendent of the Boston Public Schools, makes $250,000.


  1. To anyone trying to find Eli Kramer’s salary, “interim” director of the Hiawatha Leadership chain in Mpls. Good luck to you. Did find it fitting that his home is located on King’s Highway, same lane as reformer and Breck private school pal, Mayor Rybak.

  2. Anyone who doubts that the current rush to Charter schools is not a campaign to privatize public schools and make them into growth industries for the wealthy need only read articles like this. Thank you.

  3. With an annual salary of about $250K, Juan Rangel of the UNO Charter Schools Network in Chicago isn’t the most highly compensated of the charter exec bunch. But the value of the clout it allows him to wield and the millions of $$ that have been funneled to cronies via no-bid construction contracts…… priceless!

  4. Don’t forget the largest charter chain in the U.S. run by Gulen. They have revenues exceeding a half a billion dollars a year, and he has amassed a billion dollar empire on the backs of taxpayers.

  5. Even I, your number 1 charter school fan, think those numbers are completely absurd. I get high salaries for attracting talent, but those are the founders.

  6. Interestingly number 1 charter school fan, it’s hard to know how much charter execs in Massachusetts are making because that information is extremely hard to get. In fact I was recently contacted by someone w/in our department of education asking if I knew how to get the information–that’s how hard it is to get! I bet in addition to you and I agreeing that the above numbers are absurd we will also agree that, since charter schools are public schools, charter salary information should be public. Thanks for writing!

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