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What Will Your Salary Look Like?

Administrator Salary Forecast 2010

September/October 2009

There’s good news in the latest salary survey released by the Educational Research Service. Superintendent salaries for the academic year 2008–09 rose 4.9 percent, while salaries for most other senior administrators also increased, albeit at a lesser rate.

But all the good news is tempered by the realization that much has changed since the beginning of the 2008–09 school year. The economic slowdown, followed closely by an immediate decrease in state and local tax revenues, has put most school leaders in the unenviable position of trying to improve district offerings with either less money than the previous year, or a much smaller budget increase than expected. And this confluence of bad news has landed right at the doorstep of the highest-paid employee in most communities: the school superintendent.

“Most superintendents are getting no raise at all, or small raises,” says Daniel Domenech, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. And the repercussions that started with the 2009–10 school year might be felt for years to come. “If [the recession] continues, it would have an effect in terms of retirement,” he predicts. “Superintendents might postpone retirement and [try to] ride the economy out” to maximize their retirement payments. “Most 403(b)s have dwindled to a 400b,” he adds, with gallows humor.

Leading the Pack
First things first: let’s start with the good news. The average superintendent salary swelled to $155,634 for the 2008–09 year, a robust increase of 4.9 percent from the previous year. Increases for other central-office administrators were noticeably lower, ranging from the 2.6 percent earned by directors of instructional services to the 1.9 percent garnered by deputy/ associate superintendents. In fact, the next highest percent increase belonged to classroom teachers. Their pay went up 3.1 percent, but that added less than $2,000 to their salary, bringing the average teacher up to $52,900.

Taking a longer look over the past five years, superintendents garnered the biggest raises for that period, too. Educational leaders’ salaries rose 23.9 percent from 2003–04 to 2008–09. Central-office administrators accrued increases in that period ranging from 15.4 percent for directors of technology to 20.6 percent for directors of instructional services. Teachers racked up a 15.9 percent increase during the same time period.

These trends don’t surprise Domenech, though. While job satisfaction rates have soared for people who remain employed, he points out that the work of leading a district in such tough times has dramatically reduced the pool of applicants. “Superintendents are dealing with significant budget cuts, program cuts, and letting people go,” he says. “It’s not easy work. The stress level is certainly high. To attract people, [districts] are upping the ante.”

Even settling a budget is no guarantee of financial security, Domenech points out. During a recent trip to Ohio, he found superintendents having to cut their operating budgets anywhere from 2 percent to 10 percent during the fiscal year just to offset declining tax revenues.

If there’s one surprise in the ERS data, it might be how affordable directors of technology are compared with their fellow directors. IT directors averaged $87,898 for 2008–09, a raise of 2.1 percent. That’s an average of at least $10,000 less than the directors of instructional services ($102,322), human resources ($100,620), and finance ($98,590). This gap has widened over the past five years, when IT directors saw an aggregate 15.4 percent raise since 2003–04, while the other three positions averaged 18 percent.

Principals with the lowest-paying jobs, elementary school leaders, got the biggest percentage raises, going up 2.5 percent to $88,062. High school principals nearly dented the six-figure mark, taking in a 1.9 percent increase to average $99,365. Middle school principals earned a 2.3 percent hike, averaging $93,478.

Big-City Rewards
With president obama and DOE Secretary Arne Duncan seemingly talking about merit pay for teachers every week, it’s instructive to note that this concept has been de rigueur for superintendents for the past decade. Domenech says although he hasn’t been a superintendent for five years, his last contract had a performance clause in it.
“Pay for performance has always been the case,” he says. “Superintendents are the closest thing in education to migrant workers. They’re at-will employees.”

Not that Domenech thinks the arrangement is unfair. Although various districts and now states struggle to find a teacher merit pay system that works, judging a superintendent on the results of an entire district is more valid than judging a teacher on the results of 25 students, AASA’s leader says.

Not surprisingly, the big cities offer the biggest paychecks. Superintendents in districts of 25,000 students or more earned an average of $225,222, nearly double the $114,509 earned by leaders of districts with fewer than 2,500 students.

What seems to affect pay less is a district’s per-pupil expenditure. In districts that spend $11,000 or more per student, superintendents took home an average of $156,748. At the other end of the spectrum, districts spending less than $8,000 per student, superintendents averaged $156,334, a difference of less than $500.


Domenech isn’t surprised by this trend, noting that large districts tend to be urban, with low student expenses, but with more job complexity. This leads to high stress and high turnover. “The most negative impact tends to fall on school systems that can afford it the least,” Domenech says. “These are large, urban settings [looking for] significant achievement gains. It’s very difficult, which is why you see the revolving door in those districts.”

Hot-Button Issue
sometimes creativity is the best way to handle a sticky salary situation. When the BOE in Greater Clark County Schools in southern Indiana wanted to hire Superintendent Stephen Daeschner, they were worried about being able to offer him enough money.

Daeschner was earning $235,000 in a suburban Chicago district. The board agreed to pay him $225,000, with a twist. The district would pay $150,000, and try to raise the remaining $75,000 from private donations through a community foundation. The board did agree to cover the difference if donations fell short.

Stimulus to the Rescue
the two factors everyone agrees on is that the economic outlook for school districts will get worse before it gets better, but the stimulus money helped avert disaster. Taxes and education funding tend to track a year behind recovery, and most observers say both real estate transactions and employment figures will have to increase before more money is available for education.

According to figures from the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 of 32 states reporting say they expect revenues for fiscal 2010 to be below fiscal 2009 collections, while at least 15 expect budget gaps to exist all the way to fiscal 2012. Alaska, West Virginia, and Utah all expect revenues to be at least 10 percent below fiscal 2009.

These are some of the spots where the stimulus has helped avoid massive layoffs, at lea