By Bill Kirk and Douglas Moser
---- — Two of the highest-paid municipal employees in the Merrimack Valley work for the town of Andover, according to a review of 2012 salary records from the region.
School district Superintendent Dr. Marinel McGrath earned the most in the area, with $202,894.50. The other top earners were police lieutenants and chiefs, including Andover Police Lt. John Pathiakis, who took in $194,401. About $80,000 of that salary came in the form of overtime.
“I put in the hours,” Pathiakis said yesterday. “I gave up a lot of family life and worked a lot of overtime, between extra shifts, training and details.”
Pathiakis said most of his earnings came in the form of taking extra shifts.
“Most lieutenants don’t like working overtime; they have young families and want to spend time with them,” he said. “I worked a lot of shifts.”
McGrath, meanwhile, was hired at a high rate of pay when she first came to the district in 2010, School Committee Chairman Dennis Forgue said.
McGrath’s salary has gone up at the same rate as the negotiated salaries of school union employees, Forgue added. In 2011, she joined teachers in going without a raise.
Her gross 2012 salary was $202,894, which included $3,000 in retroactive pay and a 1 percent raise. She got a 2 percent raise for fiscal 2013 and is scheduled for another 2 percent raise in fiscal 2014, which starts July 1, Forgue said.
In March, McGrath and the School Committee signed a new, five-year contract. Raises for 2015 through the end of her contract will be negotiated annually, Forgue said.
He also said McGrath was not the highest paid in the region, saying that honor goes to Jeff Riley, the state-appointed superintendent of the Lawrence School District.
According to Chris Markuns, a spokesman for Riley, the Lawrence superintendent earns $198,000 and is paid by the state.
Forgue defended McGrath’s high salary, saying when she started, she was earning around $195,000, a little less than the previous superintendent, Claudia Bach.
“(McGrath) is managing one of the largest school districts in the area,” he said. “She inherited a school district with a lot of challenges — two years of extremely contentious contract negotiations. We are trying to really impact an entire culture of the school district. It’s not an issue of whether she’s overpaid, it’s an issue of value.”
He said McGrath has done a “better job of managing budgets, ending with a surplus last year and a surplus this year.”
“Basically, she is the CEO of the schools, managing a $76 million budget, of which $69 million is appropriated, plus grants. She has 800-plus employees,” Forgue said. “It’s a very challenging environment where there is a very long-term, ingrained culture.”
Town manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski, meanwhile, defended the high rate of pay for the town’s police and fire officials, saying overtime in public safety is just a normal part of the job and can be easier on municipal budgets than hiring new police or firefighters.
“The concern is retirement benefits, and other post-employment benefits,” Stapczynski said. “The analysis we’ve done is that oftentimes, it’s less expensive to have the overtime for positions.”
McGrath wasn’t the only superintendent in the top 10. Haverhill Superintendent James Scully earned $176,615 last year.
And Pathiakis certainly wasn’t the only high-paid public safety official in the area.
He was joined in the top 10 list by police and fire officials from Haverhill, Lawrence and Methuen, all of whom cracked the $150,000 mark.
Additionally, some towns require their officials, or at least managers, to live in town. Andover is one such community, and Stapczynski said that requirement means the town has to pay officials enough to afford housing.
Superintendents also must have advanced degrees, and districts often demand experience for their municipal managers who oversee hundreds of employees and thousands of students.