Accountability drives 'produce or go' message
by Dean Halverson and Sandra Watkins
Dean Halverson and Sandra Watkins are professors of Educational Leadership at Western Illinois University in Macomb.
As accountability increases and "results-driven" mandates are implemented, school boards also are challenged with the dilemma that the superintendent pool of candidates is dwindling. The retirement of principals and superintendents is increasing in Illinois. The overwhelming demands of the superintendency and the principalship are front and center in current educational journals and national newspapers. The message to superintendents is: "Produce or pack your bags!"
While salary figures for the year would seem to indicate that districts want to compensate their administrators well, boards are increasingly challenged with tight budgets and not enough money for the essentials. Accountability mandates require school boards to make tough decisions as to how money will be allocated. Vocal stakeholders also exert pressure on board members to maintain the status quo with fiscal decisions and taxes.
Whether because of financial constraints or a difference in respondents, both high school and elementary districts showed decline in mean superintendent salaries as compared to 2003-04 figures. Only unit district superintendents showed an increase in mean salaries over the past year, but by less than 1 percent.
But for the first time, the high principal salary in all six regions topped the $100,000 mark.
As the need for quality leadership becomes crucial, competition heightens to hire "walk on water" superintendents and principals. Principals and superintendents are lured by attractive offers from other districts in Illinois, as well as recruited by firms nationwide. Business and industry also pirate talented leadership from within educational ranks. The cost to replace disenfranchised district leaders is roughly one-half of the person's salary.
These trends are compounded with fewer teachers seeking the principalship and superintendency. In one study, potential applicants said they were personally discouraged from applying for principalships because they perceived that the compensation was insufficient compared to the responsibilities, the job was too stressful and it required too much time.
According to John Forsyth, president of Education Research Service, experienced teachers are not applying for administrative positions because, when they factor in the number of working days per year that principals have to put in on the job, the financial incentive isn't there. In addition, they feel that the increased pressure to perform in the position makes the promotion a risky proposition.
In this same study, approximately 50 percent of the districts surveyed indicated they had encountered a shortage of qualified candidates for the principal positions. Shocking as it may seem, some superintendent search firms report that they now recruit "smiling faces" with competence and experience desired, but not required.
Hiring and supporting quality superintendents and principals is essential if districts are to survive and thrive in the 21st century. This is the number one challenge for the boards of education now and in the future.
Superintendents' salary analysis
This year, the superintendent earning the highest reported salary of $262,343 was, once again, an elementary district superintendent in the Northeast region of the state. That represents a 2.5 percent increase over the highest reported salary for 2003-04, $255,755.
Reported high salaries for high school districts ranged from $252,343 in the Northeast region to $126,662 in the East Central region. For elementary districts, the range was $262,264 in the Northeast to a low of $137,999 in the Southeast region.
It should be noted that the highest paid elementary district superintendent has a salary of nearly $100,000 more than the high salary reported in any other region.
The high salaries for unit districts ranged from $216,320 in the East Central region to $131,717 in the Southeast. The lowest reported salary ($65,967) for a high school district was in the East Central region. The lowest salary for an elementary district ($59,027) was in the Southeast, followed closely by Southwest with $61,853. For a unit district, the lowest salary ($62,000) was in the Southwest region.
The highest increase in mean salaries over the last year for high school districts was West Central with 13.7 percent, followed by Northwest with the next highest of 8.4 percent. Northwest also showed the highest increase over the past two years.
West Central demonstrated the highest increase (7.5 percent) in mean salary for elementary districts. For unit districts, the Northeast demonstrated the greatest increase with 9.3 percent. They also had the greatest increase last year. In 13 of the 18 groups, the mean salary increase reported was less than the increase in 2003-04.
The mean for unit district superintendents rose from $100,388 in 2002-03 to $109,574 in 2003-2004, and to $110,493 for 2004-2005. The same statistic for high school districts is $137,230 in 2002-2003 to $139,919 in 2003-2004, to $136,770 in 2004-2005, a decrease of $3,149 from last year. In elementary school districts, the mean increased dramatically, from $113,260 in 2002-2003 to $130,103 in 2003-2004. However, for the 2004-2005 year the mean salary declined to $129,618. The Northeast region reported the highest mean salary for both high school and elementary districts.
Finally, while the range of salaries for superintendents in the state varies from a low of $59,027 to a high of $262,264, the average mean salary for all superintendents reflects a slight increase from $120,398 in 2003-04 to $120,618 in 2004-05. This average includes all types and sizes of districts.
Principals' salary analysis
The sample size of principal responses varied greatly by level and region. This could contribute to the changes noted in high, low and average salaries. The mean salary of all principals ranged from $83,426 at the elementary level to $89,044 at the middle school level and $89,463 at the high school level, yielding an average mean salary of $85,805 for all principals in the state of Illinois.
The percent of increase of the highest reported salaries were 25 percent for elementary, 23 percent for middle, and 20 percent for high school. This may reflect early retirement incentives or an increased awareness of the role of the principal as instructional leader and the pressure to increase test scores. The Northeast reported the highest salary of $205,730.
For elementary principals, the highest reported salary ($205,730) was in the Northeast region; the lowest of the high reported salaries was in the Southwest at $103,239. Analyzing the lowest salaries, it was hypothesized that an error was made in the Northeast region ($18,450). The lowest salary was in the East Central region at $42,716.
The junior high level reported high salaries ranging from $182,890 in the Northwest to $100,127 in the Southeast. In the low category, the Southeast region reported the lowest salary. For high school principals, Northeast ranked number one in the high category, followed by Northwest. In the lowest salary category, West Central reported $45,799.
Highest percent increase in mean salaries for all principals (elementary, middle school and high school) was in the West Central region, followed by the Southeast region. The increases in the West Central region were 8.4 percent for elementary, 14.1 percent for middle school, and 10 percent for high school. This is encouraging as these two regions reported the lowest mean salaries for 2003-2004.
It should be noted that this is the first time that the highest reported salary for all levels of principals has exceeded $100,000 in all six regions. Once again this year, the highest average salaries for most principals are in the northern regions. However, downstate districts are making efforts to increase principal salaries to be competitive with the northern areas of the state.
Recommendations for boards:
1. Partner with other districts to identify exemplary teacher leaders and empower them to enter the "administrative pipeline" as a principal, assistant principal or a teacher leader at the grade, department or team level. This will contribute to increased student achievement and better performance by administrators in the district. (Consider communicating with a local university to provide graduate courses on site so that the program can be tailored to district needs.)
2. Strive to retain experienced, knowledgeable and skilled leadership in your district by providing the necessary salary and benefits. Reward leaders with support and recognition.
3. Communicate the importance of hiring and retaining high quality superintendents and principals with your community. Hire highly qualified administrators who are dynamic leaders, fiscally astute, great communicators, and who have unquestionable expertise in curriculum, instruction and assessment. Remember, you are now competing nationally in a "sellers" market; make your best salary offer in the initial advertisement. The competition for this type of leader is now fierce.
4 Conduct exit interviews with departing employees to determine their rationale for leaving the district. Use this data to make better decisions regarding employee retention.
5. Create collaborative, collegial relationships with district and school administrators. Value their expertise and refrain from micromanaging the system. Micromanagement by school boards is the major reason administrators leave.
6. Conduct a school district audit to ascertain specific needs prior to employing a new superintendent. Areas to audit are: curriculum and instruction, evaluation and assessment, school and community relations, professional development, organizational effectiveness, leadership and finance. Another technique is a transition conversation that includes a small group of 10 to 15 people, convened by the board for an intensive two-day session prior to hiring the new superintendent. Then, hire someone who has the qualifications to effectively and efficiently deal with the district needs. This will be money well spent by the district. (Consider contracting with an outside source to conduct the audit.)
The information from this study is intended to provide boards of education with the data needed to determine "fair" increases for incumbent administrators, as well as provide guidance for boards seeking new administrators.
Editor's Note: The authors thank staff of the ISBE Division of Data Analysis and Progress Reporting, and also recognize the contributions of Lori Sutton of the Illinois Institute of Rural Affairs for her assistance in analyzing data supplied by ISBE.
About the survey
The Teacher Service Record data aggregated the results of 542 reports, from a possible 828 full-time superintendents with a response rate of 65.5 percent. This was an increase of 100 district reports from last year when there were 442 responses. The data regarding principals also demonstrated a 10 percent increase in respondents (1,604 to 1,758). With 3,688 full-time principals in the state, the data reflect a response rate of 47.7 percent.
Some districts did not submit a report because of unresolved salary disputes, and no part-time or interim superintendents' salaries are included. Salaries were excluded if a Social Security number cross check indicated that the district had reported a lower salary this year as compared to last year for the same individual. This resulted in the use of most principals' and superintendents' salaries from the reporting districts.
The data yielded a somewhat random distribution throughout the state. Data from the various regions, while not complete, appeared to be representative. The data was sorted by region and district type before the range and mean were calculated. The salary data from the Chicago Public Schools is not contained in this report.
The information concerning superintendents' and principals' salaries was developed from un-audited information reported by school districts to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) on the Teachers Service Record for fall 2004. ISBE staff in the Department of Research and Policy gathered the information and made the timely development of this report possible. Staff at the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs and the Department of Educational Leadership, Western Illinois University, compiled and analyzed the information.