November/December 2013

Gary Adkins is IASB director/editorial services and editor of Illinois School Board Newsbulletin

Comparing earlier surveys with the 2013 survey of district superintendents shows that, like board members, superintendents are spending more time on board work and not staying in the same district for nearly as long as they once did. Nor do most superintendents report job satisfaction as excellent any more, a change from the past two surveys in 2008 and 2003.

For comparisons’ sake, the 2013 survey of school board members revealed many board members are putting in more hours on the job and are serving more years than board members surveyed in earlier years. The past five years have seen an uptick in their years of service, reversing a long trend toward fewer years of service.

Superintendents have seen a leveling off over the past five years in the heavy amount of time spent on board work, and their years of service have increased.

In 1998, 60 percent of superintendents reported spending 10 hours or fewer each month with school board meetings and other interactions with the board. Just 18 percent said they spent more than 16 hours on board work a month. The other 22 percent said they spent between 11 and 15 hours a month on board work.

In 2013, the hours spent on board work were dramatically higher. Just 8 percent of the 416 superintendents who returned surveys said they spent fewer than 10 hours a month on board meetings and interactions with board members. The number spending 11 to 15 hours was nearly constant at 22 percent. But the number who said they spent more than 16 hours a month with board dealings, which had skyrocketed to 72 percent in 2008, remained nearly that high in the latest survey, at 71 percent.

These calculations take into consideration a slight difference in wording for the questions. In 1998, superintendents were asked about their hours beginning with increments of five hours or fewer a month, six to 10 hours, 11 to 15 hours and then 16 or more hours. And they were also asked separately about “meetings” and “other interactions.”

In 2013 (and in 2008), superintendents were queried about hours with increments of 10 hours or less, 11 to 15 hours, 16 to 20 hours, 21 to 30 hours and more than 30 hours in a single question. To make the comparison valid, responses from the two earlier questions were combined, divided by two and then percentages were computed based on the 577 respondents in that survey.

Mobility issues
Regarding longevity with districts, superintendents seem to be slightly more mobile than 15 years ago, while the age of serving superintendents overall is still edging up.

In 1998, 48 percent of superintendents said they had been with their current district more than five years. That stood at 45 percent in 2013 after plummeting to 28 percent in the 2008 survey. The number of superintendents who reported less than a year in their current district has jumped from 11 percent in 1998 to 18 percent today. Those who had been on the job between one and five years, however, fell from 41 percent to 38 percent.

As to the age of the superintendents, approximately the same percentage are younger than age 30 as in past years (the under-30 figure was .2 percent in 1998 and it is .2 percent in 2013). But the number of superintendent respondents who said they were between 30 and 39 grew from just 2 percent in 1998 to 7 percent in 2008 and it was up to 8 percent in 2013. Meanwhile the number of superintendents who indicated they were older than 60 has settled back down a bit after a precipitous rise, going from 6 percent in 2003 to 17 percent in 2008 to 14 percent today.

This concludes a long-term trend among superintendents that was evident in the 2003 superintendent survey and 2008 survey compared to 1998. In 1998, nearly 30 percent of superintendents were between 40 and 49 years old and 62.5 percent were 50 to 59. By 2003, an aging population shifted the numbers to 17 percent in the 40-49 category and 73 percent who were 50-59. By 2008, 21 percent of superintendent respondents said they were 40-49, and 55 percent said they were between 50 and 59. But in 2013, 38 percent of superintendents indicated they are between 40-49, and 40 percent said they are between 50 and 59.

While the numbers were static in the lower two age brackets (under 39) between 1998 and 2003, the 30-39 age bracket’s numbers fell in 2013 to 8 percent. That was after dropping from 29.4 percent in 1998 to 17 percent in 2003, then bouncing back up to 21 percent in 2008.

What might this mean for school districts? Initially, they have a lot of years of experience to draw from when it comes to superintendents who may be available if they need a new one. However, just as was stated five years ago, districts may face a big challenge in the next five to 10 years as the superintendents in that upper age bracket start retiring.

Job satisfaction
The 2013 survey of superintendents shows that while a great many superintendents continue to be very happy with the jobs they have chosen, the majority are not. While those who reported being “very satisfied” with their experience on the job was constant at 60 percent in 2003 and 2008, that number tumbled to 42 percent in 2013.

The number reporting that their job was “moderately satisfying” showed a slight decline from 32 percent to 27 percent between 2003 and 2008, but it jumped to 39 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, however, the “not as satisfying as expected” response also rose, rising from 8 percent in 2008 to 15 percent in 2013 after being reported at just 6 percent back in 2003. Both the “downright disappointed” and “undecided” responses increased in the last five years, rising from 1 percent to 2 percent from 2008 to 2013.

When analyzed by age, generally the older or younger the superintendent, the more likely they were satisfied with their job, but those in their middle years were not as likely to be satisfied. Of the 57 respondents who were 60 or older, 88 percent found their job “very” or “moderately” satisfying. Those responses fell to 81 percent for those age 50 to 59, and to 77 percent for those 40 to 49. Satisfaction levels were high in the age 30 to 39 category, where 84 percent found their job “very” or “moderately” satisfying, and the one respondent who was under 30 reported the job as “very satisfying.”

As superintendents were asked to choose whether certain sources of disappointment were relevant to their feelings about their jobs, few changes were apparent among and between the 2003, 2008 and 2013 surveys. Less than five percentage points of difference appeared in most questions, with some even less.

However, one notable increase appeared when superintendents were asked about “partisan or personal politics” being a cause of disappointment. While just 38 percent answered “yes” in 2003, the number jumped to 47 percent in 2008 and it continued rising to 52 percent in 2013.

When looking closer, politics seemed to be more of a disappointment for superintendents with more than 2,500 students in their districts and for those who had served five to nine years, as well as respondents in the North and Northeast regions. In addition, when the question was analyzed by the type of community, nine of the 15 respondents, or 60 percent, from cities larger than 50,000 people expressed partisan or personal politics as a “cause of disappointment.”

Another notable change, this one an increase, appeared when the superintendents were asked whether having “inadequate resources” was a disappointment. The “yes” responses rose by 20 percent went from 56 percent in 2008 to 76 percent in 2013. When coupled with the information that shows an aging superintendent profile, this significant increase could mean that district administrators are growing weary of trying to do more with less and are increasingly disappointed when finances remain scarce.

School improvement
Opinions about district performance vary little between superintendents and board members and those opinions also have been fairly constant over the past 10 years with two notable trends:

The level of satisfaction with community involvement in setting district policies and standards has shown a notable increase and the level of local tax effort for schools is now in decline. (See Table D)

In the 1998 survey of superintendents, 60 percent said they were satisfied with the way their communities were involved in setting board policies and standards. That number fell to 55 percent in 2003 and fell again to 48 percent in 2008 but bounced back to 53 percent in 2013. That may signal that increasing the level of community involvement may be possible after all, increasingly a goal of school improvement plans.

A similar wave of falling and rising satisfaction was noted among board members during that same time span, although their levels were not as high to begin with. In 1998, 55 percent of board members thought their district performance was “satisfactory” in terms of community involvement. That number dropped to 48 percent in 2003, and 44 percent in 2008. But it bounced back to 49 percent in 2013, still lower than in the earliest surveys, but signaling a trend toward greater satisfaction.

In 1998, 71 percent of superintendent respondents thought the district performed satisfactorily with its local efforts to finance its schools. While that dipped to 58 percent in 2003, the number was back up to 64 percent in 2008, but it fell again this time to 53 percent. From board members’ perspectives, the satisfaction index on tax effort went from 70 percent in 1998 down to 60 percent in 2003, but it was back up to 66 percent in 2008 before slipping a bit to 64 percent in the latest survey.

Superintendents and school board members were asked additional questions regarding their Internet use, contacting IASB and readership of various Association publications. If you would like to see the actual questions and response numbers from IASB school board member and superintendent surveys from all four survey years, go to