Administrator Salaries: Keeping Up with the Times
By Theresa Kelly Gegen
The more things change, the more they say the same. Even in a period of upheaval — including that first wave of the coronavirus pandemic that turned the public education world inside-out — superintendent salaries in Illinois, and the trends relating to them, are consistently consistent.
In each iteration of the annual administrator salaries series, we try to look at the data differently, by design or by necessity depending on the available data. Published annually by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), the data are publicly available unless in the process of being updated.
A few details stand out this time, not so much as being inconsistencies or unusual trends, but milestone numbers or slight but noteworthy shifts. The average base plus benefits salary for all district superintendents in Illinois topped $200,000 for the first time in 2020. Elementary and high school district superintendents continue to average higher salaries than unit district superintendents. And, also notable albeit in tiny increments: in most regions, salaries are getting closer to the statewide average. For this round, we’ve added Assistant and Associate Superintendents to a few of the analyses, as noted in the data.
For those familiar with the series, over time there have been changes to how the data are managed. For more, see Table 1 and “About the Series.”
Beginning in 2018, this analysis used “base plus benefits salary” (salary plus monetized benefits, specified by ISBE as Bonus, Annuities, Retirement Benefits, and Other Benefits). Prior to that, the data was reported as base salary only. For some individuals, both at the high and low ends, this is significant. Although there are 43 district superintendents with nothing added in the monetary benefits column, there are over 50 with benefits of 33% or more of their listed base salary. In 2020, benefits added 20% of base salaries to the total base-plus salary of the 682 district superintendents.
The trends in district superintendent salaries have remained consistent over the years of the survey. In the IASB/Western series, the only time a significant change appeared in the percent change in average district superintendent salary was when the analysis changed from including all superintendents to counting only full-time equivalents. Otherwise, the percent change has ranged from a slight (0.4%) dip in 2016 to a 2.7% increase in 2015 and 2019. The latest data holds true (see Table 2), with changes year-to-year of 2.7% and 1.2%.
Salary packages of over $350,000 are not as unusual as they were during the 2010s.
As mentioned, the average base plus benefits salary for all full-time equivalent district superintendents in Illinois topped $200,000 for the first time in 2020 (see Table 2). It’s a nice round number, but that new number represents less of a change than in the previous years’ comparisons (1.2% change from 2019 to 2020; compared to 2.7% from 2018 to 2019).
Assistant and Associate Superintendents’ average base-plus salary of $187,336 for 416 such individuals in 2020 is close to the $189,655 of all 682 district superintendents for the same year. Like so much else, this has a regional component, notable because most (70%) of the assistants and associates are in the state’s Northeast Region (see Figure 1).
Typecasting; Elementary, High School, and Unit Districts
The 2020 data count 271 superintendents of elementary districts, 87 for high school districts, and 323 superintendents at unit districts (see Table 3). Our analysis shows that, among the district superintendents, high school superintendents average the highest base-plus salary ($243,356), followed by elementary ($214,807) and then unit ($177,339). The Northeast Region is again the difference-maker in district type: 191 of the state’s 271 elementary district superintendents are in the Northeast, where salaries tend to be higher. Also, 53 of the state’s 97 high school districts are in the Northeast. The other five regions (Northwest, West Central, East Central, Southwest, and Southeast), mostly rural areas and smaller urban metropolitan areas than Chicago and its suburbs, have 87% (280) of the state’s 323 unit district superintendents. These regional differences also explain percentile gaps (see Table 4)
The greatest variability noted in this category is with the state’s 271 elementary district superintendents. The high salary for this group in 2020 was $380,374; the low was $31,423.
Here are more ways the Northeast stands out in our analysis.
Regionally Speaking: The State’s Northeast
The regions (again, see Figure 1) for the Journal’s Administrator Salaries series date back to the first installment, in 1997, when data was self-reported and the number of respondents was a few dozen, not the hundreds as it is today through ISBE’s reporting requirements. For much of the state, the regions are data comparable. But the Northeast data is statistically significantly different from the rest, and we’ll take a closer look here — by county when reasonable and including Assistant and Associate Superintendents.
The Northeast Region had, in 2020, more Assistant/Associate District Superintendents than all other regions combined. Indeed, it reported more Assistant/Associates (288) than any other region had total Superintendents. The Northeast Region has a total super count of 615. Base-plus salaries for the 327 Assistant/Associate District Superintendents in the Northeast Region average $196,277. The 288 District Superintendents average $250,616.
It gets a little complicated at the county level. Some school district boundaries fall in multiple counties; we use the county in which they are listed for the ISBE tables. At the point where the data sets are small, we combine counties, as indicated. And, historically we do not count Chicago Public Schools in this data.
The 133 District Superintendents in Cook County averaged a base-plus salary of $260,795 in 2020 and ranged from $152,500 to $425,356. Cook County’s 137 Assistant/Associate District Superintendents averaged $195,018.
With 42 District Superintendents listed, Lake County’s average for 2020 was $255,718, ranging from an outlier of $31,423 to a high of $381,097. Lake’s 54 Assistant/Associates averaged the highest of this cohort, $205,116.
Will County’s 27 District Superintendents averaged $227,210 and ranged from $152,800 to $313,826. Will County’s 23 Assistant/Associates averaged $195,511.
Also in 2020, the 40 DuPage County District Superintendent Salaries averaged the highest in the region, at $264,170; they ranged from $175,000 to $384,498. DuPage’s 62 Assistant/Associate Superintendents averaged $195,151.
We next look at the collar of the collar counties together, because they contain sets under 20. In Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, and McHenry Counties, combined, there were 46 District Superintendents in 2020; their average salary was $218,478 ranging from $160,566 to $314,896. The 41 Assistant/Associate Superintendents in this county group averaged $192,014.
And the Rest
As has long been the case, the regional breakdowns (see Table 5) may prove most useful to boards of education determining salary ranges for their superintendents. Within the regions, over time, we see the lows, highs, and sometimes even averages fluctuate and go against the typical trend of 1-2% increases. This is possibly due to missing data or oddities in data entry (for example, partial-year or less than full-time equivalents). For the most part, the averages increase with the times. All of the regions now average over $100,000 for district superintendents. This was not the case prior to 2018 (but again, this can partially be accounted for by the inclusion of base-plus salaries and only full-time equivalents).
Aside from the Northeast ($250,616), in 2020 the highest average base-plus salary for district superintendents was in the Northwest region ($180,417) and then East Central ($167,672). The lowest, as is usual for this study, was Southeast ($142,573 in 2020). Some of the typically lower-salary regions drew closer to the average. For example, Southeast averaged 69% of the state average in 2018 and was at 71% in 2020.
As a whole, trends for superintendent salaries in the 2020 data are consistent, be it through the years, across the state, by district type, and within regions. Although the more things change, the more they say the same with superintendent salaries, boards of education seeking a new superintendent or contract are encouraged to look at the data relevant to them and proceed accordingly.
Theresa Kelly Gegen is Editor of the Illinois School Board Journal. The analyses of principal salaries will be included in the March/April issue of the Journal.