As the Board of Finance prepares to vote on next year's municipal and education budgets for Westport, records released by the town's Finance Department and Board of Education show that education employees dominated the ranks of the town's highest-paid personnel in 2010.

Education personnel held seven of the ten highest salaries and accounted for 20 of the 25 highest-paid town employees.

The data comes to light amidst an ongoing debate about the appropriate level of compensation for Westport's public employees -- as their long-range benefits have greater impact on tighter town budgets. Concern over town employees' pension plans and other benefits prompted the Representative Town Meeting to reject new firefighter and municipal employee union contracts last November.

But the pay for public employees also figures in that debate, said Board of Finance Chairwoman Helen Garten.

"Salaries will determine ultimately both the amount that employees contribute to their pensions and the amount that they're going to receive, so they're relevant," she said.

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TOP 10 ON WESTPORT'S PUBLIC PAYROLL Following are the top 10 wages on Westport's public payroll for 2010. Amounts in parentheses reflect the total pay for police and fire personnel, including overtime pay as well as compensation to police for outside contractor assignments, which is reimbursed to the town. (The town Finance Department did not break down the amounts between standard overtime and outside compensation.) 1. Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon, $279,487 2. Assistant Superintendent for Business Nancy Harris, $200,886 3. Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Brian Fagan, $186,850 4. Staples High School Principal John Dodig, $172,286 5. Police Field Training Officer Howard Simpson, $159,503 ($84,059) 6. Coleytown Middle School Principal Kris Szabo, $152,523 7. Bedford Middle School Principal Melissa Paolini, $150,530 8. Police Officer Michael Gudzik, $150,514 ($77,293) 9. Saugatuck Elementary School Principal Robert Buckley, $148,453 9. Director of Instructional Technology Natalie Carrignan, $148,453 9. Director of Pupil Services Cynthia Gilchrest, $148,453 9. Long Lots Elementary School Principal Michael Jones, $148,453 10. Fire Chief Christopher Ackley $148,017

Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon was the highest-paid public employee by a clear margin, earning $279,000.

Assistant Superintendent Nancy Harris was second, with just under $201,000, followed by another top school administrator, Brian Fagan, who was paid $187,000, and Staples High School Principal John Dodig whose pay was $172,000.

Police Field Training Officer Howard Simpson was fifth-highest on the overall list -- and the top earner outside the school system -- with total pay of $160,000. Like many police personnel, overtime pay as well as outside work paid by contractors (and reimbursed to the town) accounted for a substantial amount of his gross earnings. Simpson was paid $84,000 in such compensation last year. The break down for officers' overtime and outside was not available from the Finance Department.

Coleytown Middle School Principal Kris Szabo and Bedford Middle School Principal Melissa Paolini took the sixth and seventh spots on the top-10 list, with $153,000 and $151,000, respectively.

Police Patrol Officer Michael Gudzik was the second-highest paid municipal employee and eighth-highest overall with total compensation of $151,000.

Robert Buckley, principal of Saugatuck Elementary School; Michael Jones, principal of Long Lots Elementary School; Cynthia Gilchrest, director of pupil services, and Natalie Carrignan, the schools' director of instructional technology, each made the ninth-highest salary of $148,453.

Fire Chief Christopher Ackley had the 10th-highest compensation, with a total of $148,017. Police Chief Al Fiore came in two spots behind with total compensation of $141,000.

Along with Deputy Fire Chief Jon Gottfried, Ackley and Fiore retired last June and were subsequently rehired under new contracts with reduced base salaries.

Their retirements, however, allowed them to receive accrued vacation pay that boosted their compensation by thousands over their base pay.

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, who was paid approximately $101,000, was not among the 50 highest-paid municipal earners.

The town's 870 education employees' salaries totaled about $63 million, or almost 70 percent of this year's education operating budget.

The top 25 education salaries totaled about $3.8 million, accounting for about 6 percent of the education budget's salary allocation.

In comparison, the top 25 municipal salaries totaled about $3.3 million.

Data on total compensation for Westport's 319 municipal employees were unavailable from the Finance Department.

Selectman Charles Haberstroh said town employees' salaries should not be evaluated in isolation, but together with the town's commitments to employee pension funds and the Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) fund, which covers town employee medical costs.

"You have to put them all together because you only have a pot of money of a certain size, and you have to cover all of these things," he said.

The town has an $8 million required contribution to its employee pension funds this year, with a projected $9.4 million commitment for 2011-12.

Those funds do not include the town's public school teachers, whose pension funds are financed by the state.

The Board of Finance will vote on next year's municipal and education budgets during hearings set for March 22-24. The budgets will then move to the Representative Town meeting for final action in May.

Most town employee salaries are not determined on an individual basis, but by collective bargaining between town labor lawyers and officials of the unions that represent many of those workers.