The salary of the chief special education officer Cheryl Coy climbed by $41,381 or 35-percent amid ongoing issues with the Paterson school district’s special education program, according to public records.
Coy’s salary was $116,945, according to payroll records dated from Feb. 1, 2018, when she worked as acting special education officer. Her salary increased to $149,281, according to payroll records from Apr. 2019, when the district dropped the “acting” from her title. Her salary stood at $158,326 as of Oct. 16, 2019.
Increases took place as thousands of special education students were deprived of tens of thousands of hours of speech therapy. As of May 2019, the district owed 26,696 hours of speech therapy to as many as 2,000 students.
The issue has yet to be fully resolved.
Superintendent Eileen Shafer promoted Coy from acting to permanent chief special education officer on Jul. 16, 2018, according to district documents obtained through a records request. Three months later, the Education Law Center filed a complaint with the New Jersey Department of Education stating it was “shocked” the district had failed to rectify special education failures identified in the 2016-17 school year. Students at a dozen schools and pre-school facilities were not provided required speech services in the 2017-18 school year, the complaint stated.
When asked for an explanation for the pay increases last week, Shafer’s spokesman Paul Brubaker said, “The idea that Chief Coy received a single $41,000 pay increase is incorrect because her base salary increased about $16,000 when she was appointed Chief Special Education Officer in July 2018. Any additional compensation to Chief Coy has been paid according to the district’s longevity schedule for non-bargaining employees. She has also received annual three percent increments that are paid to most district employees.”
Brubaker said the district has made significant progress in reducing the backlog of speech therapy. He said as of Nov. 30, 2019, the district owed students 3,325.5 hours of compensatory speech therapy.
Coy “led” the district’s special education department in “reducing” the backlog, said Brubaker. He said getting students caught up has been a “priority” for both the district and Coy.
“A lot of the support that she needed, she didn’t have,” said school board member Corey Teague, who has two special education children enrolled in the district. He has styled himself as a fighter for special education in the November school board race. Over the past two years, school board members, who had to make tough budget cuts in the district, urged the Shafer regime to avoid cutting in areas that would negatively impact special education.
When asked if the pay increases and promotion for Coy was appropriate amid the district’s ongoing special education problems, Teague said he will have to speak to Shafer to find out the reasons for the increases.
Three parents interviewed for this story gave Coy poor ratings. All three had direct interactions with her having to do special education services for their children.
“My opinion is if you’re going to be giving somebody that much money, she has to do her job. She has to do the job,” said Raquel Soto, who has a child in the district. She has helped dozens of parents to help them resolve issues their children were experiencing in Paterson special education program. “If I let you speak to all my parents, they’re going to say the same thing.”
Coy did not respond to a message seeking her response for this story.