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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 least for the time being. The White House Domestic Policy Council estimated the funds helped save or create at least 250,000 education jobs this year, the vast majority of them teachers. Indeed in California, which was issuing IOUs during its budget impasse earlier this year, Gov. Schwarzenegger says the stimulus saved more than 60,000 education jobs, 6,300 of them in Los Angeles alone. Of the total $97.4 billion education ARRA money, nearly 70 percent—$67.6 billion—had been obligated by Sept. 30.

Not all the ARRA success stories have big numbers attached to them. In Scottsbluff, Nebraska, just 18 jobs were spared by using stimulus funds, but that’s 7 percent of the district’s teachers. Forty-six teachers were saved in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, a full 10 percent of that district’s teachers.

While the original intent of the ARRA funds was more to drive innovation than backfill budget gaps, some of that work was accomplished, too. Rothschild Middle School in Columbus, Georgia, used its funds to hire more math teachers to help deliver individualized instruction to students through smaller class sizes. At the Black Horse Pike Regional School District in New Jersey, recovery funds helped support an in-house extended school year for special education students who require expanded learning time.

At least three states, Alabama, Kentucky, and Washington, used ARRA money to avoid spending declines in fiscal 2009. Four states—Florida, Illinois, Wisconsin, and South Carolina—used stimulus funds to restore more than 10 percent of their state’s K–12 budgets. The impact is expected to be even greater in fiscal year 2010 when at least seven states say they will use the funds to avoid spending dips.

But not all the education projections are dour. The National Center for Education Statistics projects both enrollment and school spending will increase by 2018. The NCES report shows an 8 percent climb in student enrollment to near 60 million students in nine years’ time. Nine states can expect student population increases of more than 15 percent, while decreases will be seen in 16 states, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest. Education spending and the number of teachers are also predicted to climb. Spending, which rose 43 percent from the 12 years between 1993–94 and 2005–06, will climb 36 percent to a projected $626 billion by 2018.

The number of teachers, whose ranks rose 27 percent in the same time frame, is predicted to rise 16 percent to 4.2 million by 2018. In fact, the only number decreasing in the report was the average class size, dropping from 15.2 in 2006 to 14.2 by 2018.       

The ERS National Survey of Salaries and Wages in Public Schools has been conducted every year since 1973, with data collected on 23 professional and 10 support positions. Districts across the U.S. are sampled, with 862 districts providing data for 2008–09. ERS is a nonprofit organization established to serve research and information needs of education leaders and the public. www.ers.org 

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