Reducing disparity may ease migration
by Max E. Pierson and Robert F. Hall
Max Pierson and Robert Hall are professors of Educational Administration at Western Illinois University. The authors wish to give special thanks to Connie Wise, Don Corrigan and the staff of the Department of Research and Policy, Illinois State Board of Education, and acknowledge their contributions towards this effort. The authors would also like to recognize the contributions of Lori Sutton, of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, for her assistance in analyzing the data supplied by the Illinois State Board of Education.
Boards of education make difficult decisions at each and every meeting. One of the most difficult decisions they must make is the determination of a fair and equitable salary for the administrative staff.
While several recent changes in law, most notably the requirement of performance contracts for administrators with multiple-year contracts, would seem to make this job easier, there is no negotiated rate or industry standard by which raises are determined. Several factors enter into the administrators' salary or raise as determined by the board of education. Some of these factors are:
1) the general rate of employment within the community,
2) median family income,
3) consumer confidence,
4) the "approval rating" of the board of education and the superintendent,
5) general educational level of the members of the community, and
6) major local economic developments.
Goals usually found in administrator performance contracts include increasing student achievement, improving the fiscal condition of the district and improving instruction. These performance contract goals are not necessarily tied to administrative compensation. Consequently, it is possible for an administrator to achieve each of the goals in his/her performance contract and not receive an increase in salary.
Most school superintendents accept the fact that the only way to achieve a significant raise in salary is to move to a different district. While this may appear to be an attractive alternative to some boards of education, the costs to the district can be enormous. Specifically, changes in top-level leadership result in a period of time during which the board of education is totally immersed in recruiting a new superintendent, often to the exclusion of consideration of other significant educational issues that should be addressed in the district. Further, the board must pay the costs of a search, diverting monies from other worthwhile educational pursuits. When a board of education fails to provide a fair and equitable salary for the administrative staff, inevitably administrators seek new positions that provide greater financial rewards for their talent.
There is no doubt that the supply of experienced school administrators is soon to be at an all-time low. Approximately 40 percent of the sitting superintendents will retire in the next five years. That figure is being reported not only in Illinois, but throughout the country. Boards of education will have two alternatives: 1) reduce the disparity between the different regions of the state by increasing salaries downstate to match those in the suburban areas or 2) accept the migration of experienced, qualified school administrators to the Northeast region of the state. When reviewing the data for the Northeast region, it becomes obvious that district size and type is not a necessary determinant for superintendent salaries. At the same time, the demand for administrators, as evidenced by the number of attendance centers and districts, is not decreasing enough to alleviate or match the supply issue. The result is an ever-decreasing supply with a stable demand for administrators.
Boards need to be proactive in setting administrator salaries. We hope that the following information will assist boards of education in their efforts to provide "fair" increases for incumbent school administrators and provide guidance for boards of education forced to seek a new school administrator.
The information concerning superintendent and principal salaries was developed from unaudited information reported by the school districts to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) on the Teachers Service Record for fall 2000. It was gathered by the staff of the Department of Research and Policy, ISBE, who made the timely development of this report possible. It was compiled and analyzed by staff of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs and Department of Educational Administration and Supervision at Western Illinois University.
Response rate and statistical methodology
The Teacher Service Record data aggregates the results of 621 district reports, of 892 possible districts, for a response rate of 69.6 percent. Some districts have not submitted the report yet because of unresolved salary disputes, some are still in transit from the regional offices and no part-time or interim superintendents' salaries are included. This year, for the first time, only districts using electronic filing were used. All principals' salaries from the reporting districts were available for use with all superintendents' salaries. This number has grown so large that it gave a random distribution throughout the state. Data from the regions, while not complete, appears to be representative. The salary data from Cook County and the City of Chicago public schools is not contained in this report. The data were sorted by region and district type before the range and mean were calculated.
Superintendents' salaries (Table in PDF file)
This year, as last year, the superintendent earning the highest reported salary of $253,875 was a high school district superintendent in the Northeast. Again, the Northeast paid the highest salaries in all categories of districts: high school, elementary and unit. The West Central led all regions for the highest percent of increase in elementary school superintendent salaries (10.9 percent) and was second, statewide, in the unit district category with an increase of 6.6 percent. These percentages equated to an increase in the average salary of $13,809 (high school); $9,801 (elementary); and $5,759 (unit districts). The Southwest led in high school salary increase (17.7 percent). High school districts in the East Central and Southeast regions both reported a mean salary decrease of 2.1 and 2.7 percent, respectively. Elementary districts in the Southwest region reported a decrease of 5.8 percent; however, there were twice as many districts reporting this year as last. This decrease in the Southwest average may be attributable to more small districts reporting. Larger numbers of districts reporting also may explain the relatively small increases in mean salaries for elementary superintendents in both the Southeast and East Central regions. Finally, while the range of salaries for superintendents in the state varies from a low of $47,500 to a high of $253,875, the average salary for all superintendents is $102, 612. Please remember that this average includes all types and all sizes of districts.
Principals' salaries (Table in PDF file)
First, it should be noted that the salaries quoted this year are based on a sample of the salaries of 1,718 principals compared to 1,148 principals in last year's survey. There are approximately 3,900 building principals in the state. The average salary for all principals ranged from $65,211 in the Southeast region to $86,359 in the Northeast region.
The highest overall salary percentage increases were noted for high school principals in the West Central region with an increase of 12.5 percent. In the Northeast region, which has traditionally had the highest reported salaries, high school principal salaries were up 2.7 percent, middle school principal salaries were up 6.2 percent and the greatest percentage increase was seen at the elementary with a 9.1 percent. Middle school and elementary principal salaries increased significantly except in the Southeast region.
As has been true for the past five years, high school principals still make more than middle school principals who make more than elementary school principals. The highest reported salaries for high school principals ranged from $159,647 (compared to $185,654 last year) in the Northeast to $93,080 in the Southeast. For middle school principals the highest reported salaries ranged from $143,167 in the Northeast to $78,941 in the Southeast. Among elementary school principals, the highest reported salaries ranged from $130,033 in the Northeast to $84,644 in the Southwest. Average salaries for high school, middle school and elementary school principals in the Northeast region are again the highest in the state.
As reported in previous years, the job market for superintendents and principals is really a statewide and, in many cases, a national market. An ever-decreasing supply coupled with stable demand will result in significantly higher salaries for experienced administrators. New, inexperienced administrators are being hired for the same salary as the retiring, experienced administrators. If downstate districts fail to increase salaries to match those in the suburban areas, then they will need to face the reality of a migration of experienced, qualified school administrators to the Northeast region.
The impact is profound. When some districts begin to seek a new superintendent, they find that they simply cannot attract a suitable candidate with the salary they are proposing. They have two choices: either dedicate more of the school budget to a higher superintendent's salary or share a superintendent with a neighboring district. This is a reality that many small downstate districts face. The authors would offer two other suggestions for boards. First, if you have high-quality administrators in your district, then pay a competitive salary (above the average for your district type) to retain them. Second, if you find potentially high-quality administrative talent in your teaching staff, encourage and assist them in moving to administrative positions within the district.
Communities and boards that value quality leadership and wish to attract and retain such must be prepared to offer salaries that are competitive with the average salaries being received statewide. Boards are cautioned that if they have quality leaders within the district, when these people are promoted, they should access salaries comparable to those they would receive if they moved to another district. If boards don't provide this, they will.