Retired Niagara Falls administrator Lawrence Martinez made The News recently when we reported that he was the second-highest paid public school employee in Erie and Niagara counties last year.
Martinez, who now lives in Arizona, could not be reached to comment for that story. But he was gracious enough to call and talk with us this week, about everything from his long and celebrated career in education to the six-figure check that pushed him into the region's list of best-paid educators.
"I think I had a rather distinguished career," he said. "I was in education for 42 years. When someone says 'just an elementary principal,' I was more than that. I held every postion in Niagara Falls except superintendent and deputy superintendent."
Martinez started out as an elementary school teacher, making $6,800 a year. After a few years, he became math coordinator for the district, then technology coordinator and audiovisual coordinator. His other administrative positions included working with curriculum for math and science; overseeing grants; working as vice principal at the middle school and high school levels; and working as an elementary school principal. When he retired in June, he was serving as principal of Hyde Park Elementary School.
He was good at what he did, he says. For instance, when he oversaw grants for Niagara Falls, grants doubled, to $24 million. Over the years, he received four national awards, including one that recognized him as one of the 200 best computer educators in the country. That award brought $250,000 to the district, which Niagara Falls used to set up one of the first computer labs in the region, Martinez said.
"I think if you ask educators around, they'll tell you Larry Martinez had a hell of a career in Niagara Falls, N.Y.," he said.
When Martinez retired, he had accumulated 650 unused sick days.
"How does that benefit the district? They never had to use subs for me," he said. "More importantly, because I had good health, I was able to maintain continuity in my classroom. That benefited everybody."
The district lets employees cash in their unused time, but caps it at 300 sick days. He got a check for about $104,000 for that sick time he never used, he said.
"If you spread that out over all the years I worked, that would be about $2,600 added onto my salary each year," he said.
Martinez says he realizes that in an era when many people in the private sector have lost their pensions entirely, many people get upset when they read about people in the public sector getting a big check at the end of their career for unused sick time. But money was not what motivated him to pursue a career in education, he said.
"I don't think there was an educator out there who thought they would get rich doing this," he said. "There were times we gave up 1 percent, 2 percent, 3 percent raises a year. In exchange, they'd say, 'We'll increase the number of sick days you can turn in at the end of the year.'
"I really didn't beat a system. I went along with what a system negotiated for us."
- Mary Pasciak