January/February 2023

Watching the Numbers: Administrator Salaries

By Theresa Kelly Gegen

The next installment of the Administrator Salaries Series, a long-running semi-annual feature in the Illinois School Board Journal, takes us through the time of the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike nearly every other facet of public education, however, salaries and their incremental changes have remained fairly consistent.

We look this year at salaries for district superintendents and assistant or associate district superintendents, principals and assistant principals, and other administrators, as reported by the school districts to the Illinois State Board of Education as required by the Illinois School Code (105 ILCS 5/10-20.47 and 5/34-18.38). The data are publicly available and nomenclatures, including position descriptions and titles, are established by ISBE. The Journal’s work organizes the data as has been historically done in this series by year, position, and region. 

Historically, this study does not count Chicago Public Schools, which due to its outsized numbers, nomenclature, and governance structure make comparisons ineffective. We also eliminate charter schools, many of which use non-standard position titles or have incomplete entries, and as a result are statistically insignificant. An adjustment this year was made to incorporate full-time equivalent salaries instead of using only full-time personnel for 2020 and 2021 comparisons. This change is to incorporate the data available with as much clarity as possible. This makes the total personnel count slightly higher, but proves statistically insignificant for comparing year-to-year. It does mean the salary numbers used in our 2020 report are slightly different from what readers will find below. We again include, where appropriate, monetary benefits as found in the reported data. In a few cases, benefits and retirement packages as reported were significant enough to skew the numbers for an entire category. Such salaries with outlier numbers were omitted from our study.

From 2020 to 2021, across all categories, statewide, salaries increased, but by smaller percentages than in the past year. We’ve seen this pattern before, where a year of overall 2-3% increases in average salaries by category is followed by smaller incremental increases — but still increases — in the next year.

Taking a look at the statewide data (Table 1), in 2020, districts reported salaries for 1,297 superintendents, 853 district superintendents and 444 assistant/associate superintendents. The average, full-time equivalent salary plus benefits for all was $187,035. The 2020 average was $187,904 for district superintendents and $185,370 for assistants and associates. 

A year later, in 2021, our tables show districts reported salaries for 1,308 superintendents, 846 district superintendents and 462 assistants or associates. The average full time equivalent salary plus benefits for all superintendents was $190,082. The average for district superintendents was $191,323 and for assistants/associates was $187,765. 

One might expect a greater difference between the chief executives and assistants. There is a statistical explanation for this: Most of the associate or assistant superintendents (369 of 462, or 79%) are in the state’s Northeast Region where in all categories and subsets, salaries are the highest (see more on regional differenes below and in Table 2). Thus, the average salary for district superintendents rose 1.8% from 2020 to 2021 and for assistants and associates the average salary increased 1.3%.  

Statewide in 2020 (Table 3), districts reported salaries for 5,267 total principals, counting 3,116 principals and 2,151 assistant principals. The average, full-time equivalent salary plus benefits for all was $124,268. The 2020 average was $130,374 for principals and $115,424 for assistants.

A year later, in 2021, districts reported salaries for 5,279 total principals, including 3,102 principals and 2,177 assistants. The average, full-time equivalent salary plus benefits for all was $125,733. The 2021 average was $132,636 for principals and $115,897 for assistants.

Thus, the average salary for principals rose 1.7% from 2020 to 2021. In that same span for assistant principals the average salary increased 0.4%. Retirement incentives and benefits for principals made up most of the renumeration for many individuals in this category. Regionally (Table 4), the principal numbers align with those of superintendents, with the Northeast salaries the highest and Southeast the lowest, on average.

Other Administrators
The other administrator category includes such position titles (designated by ISBE) as Special Education Director, Dean of Students Admin (admin endorsement held), Head of Gen Ed (Depart chair admin endorsement held), and Chief School Business Official but not anyone listed as a superintendent or principal. 
Statewide in 2020 (Table 5), districts reported an average salary of $129,530 for 1,704 other administrators. One year later, in 2021, the data show an average salary of $131,059 for the 1,791 persons in this category, an increase of 1.2% from 2020 to 2021.

By popular demand, we continue to offer data by region of Illinois (Tables 2, 4, and 6). These regions were established in the early days of this ongoing series and we maintain them for consistency. As was the case last year, the Northeast Region is an outlier, both in reported numbers of administrators and their salaries. Of the 10 school districts that educate the most students, only one, Rockford CUSD 205, is not in the Northeast. 

Of the 7,914 administrators counted in this study, 4,799 (61%) are in the Northeast. Cook County has 147 school districts, Lake County has 45, and DuPage County has 43. These numbers are approximate because some school districts are in more than one country. The average and median salaries in all categories are the highest by far. The Northeast’s nearest statistical companion is the Northwest. Even so, the average superintendent salary in the Northwest, $173,296, is 70% of that in the Northeast and much closer to the third highest of $167,364 in the East Central. This east-west alignment with salaries continues north to south: The numbers from West Central and East Central reflect similar salaries to each other, as do Southwest and Southeast. The Southeast Region is typically the site of the state’s lowest average administrator salaries. A trend we noticed last time continues: The Southeast continues to draw closer to the mean and median. For example, the median district superintendent salary in the Southeast was $130,274 in 2020, which was 71% of the state’s $181,723. In 2021, the Southeast median district superintendent salary increased to 76% of the statewide median.

Comparing the Northeast within itself, and using comparisons between the other five regions, would sensibly reflect administrator salary expectations in Illinois. 

About the Series
Since 1997, IASB, working with researchers in the field of educational leadership, has published a report on the salaries of Illinois school administrators. Early data for the study was obtained through surveys with un-audited information, with relatively low rates of return.

In 2009, Public Act 96-0434 required Illinois school districts to report administrator and teacher salary information to ISBE. The Illinois School Code was amended in 2011 to reflect changes in the reporting dates. The data were briefly unavailable during the transition, and the series was paused for a few years. 

With reporting standards in place and the data being made available to researchers, IASB’s “annual” study of administrator salaries was revived in 2014 and 2015 with a catch-all and catch-up from the missing years, followed by a normal annual analysis. The series paused again in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic upended data retrieval and series publishing. It also concluded the ability of our longtime collaborators at Western Illinois University to participate. We are grateful for their work over the years to keep the series going. The installment in January of 2022 and this one, published in January 2023, adhere to their standards for identifying trends, reportage, and analysis as faithfully as possible.

Theresa Kelly Gegen is Editor of the Illinois School Board Journal. The full administrator salary series is available on the IASB website, starting at bit.ly/IASBAdminSalaries.