Walking the tightrope of declining salaries
by Dean Halverson and Sandra Watkins
Dean Halverson and Sandra Watkins are professors in the Educational Leadership Department at Western Illinois University, Macomb.
School board members are being challenged by stakeholder demands to hire the best administrators in the country. Their voices are saying: "Hire superintendents and principals of the highest quality …we want the best for our children." Current research supports their voices and demands.
A 2003 report released by the Texas Educational Excellence Project at Texas A&M University reveals that superintendent salaries and management are definite factors in predicting and assessing school performance: "Evidence reveals that increases in superintendent quality are related to improvement in Texas Assessment of Academic Skills performance for blacks, Latinos, Anglos, and low income students, increases in performance on SAT and ACT assessments, increases in attendance rate and decreases in dropout rate."
The data from this year's survey has alarming implications for students enrolled in public school education in Illinois. The data suggests that, in general, salaries are on the decline at a time of the greatest need for high quality educational leaders. In the regional reports based on district types, 10 of the 18 categories reported declines in the mean salaries of superintendents. Additional research in Illinois needs to be conducted to ascertain root causes. Quality leadership will be impacted.
Walking the tight rope for school members in 2006 includes:
- Recruiting and retaining the "walk on water" superintendents and principals in this highly competitive marketplace for quality.
- Tight and dwindling budgets.
- Lack of stakeholder knowledge about the competitive nature of hiring and retaining quality leaders who demand adequate compensation packages for their high performance.
One of the forces driving the need for quality administrators and resulting compensation demands are test scores. The required knowledge of superintendents and principals has increased five-fold in the past five years. Among their many qualifications, superintendents and principals must be instructional leaders. They must be attuned to the latest research and best practices and have the ability to apply this knowledge as the chief executive officers of the districts and buildings. Compensation needs to support their expertise in these critical areas that affect districts of all sizes.
The following superintendent and principal salary analysis hopes to provide knowledge to school board members to assist them in making the best decisions related to the recruitment and retention of exemplary educational leaders. The most important decision board members will make in the future will be hiring and supporting of their next superintendent.
In light of this information, we recommend the following:
- Step up recruitment and retention of quality superintendents and principals. Research data suggest that hiring quality educational leaders impacts student performance.
- Inform the community of the necessity to provide competitive compensation packages to recruit and retain quality superintendents and principals.
- Examine the assets of the community, whether rural or suburban, and use these assets to recruit quality administrators from all parts of the country.
- Recruit and compensate teacher leaders within the system or nearby systems to enroll in educational leadership programs. Explore the possibility of offering graduate courses at a site in the school district.
- Consider exploring additional competitive benefits such as tax shelters, annuities, family health insurance, performance bonuses, increased vacation time, vacation reimbursement, sick leave buyout, compensatory time, car lease/ allowance, professional expenses allowance, technology expenses and relocation expenses.
- If competitive salary and benefits are above a district's means, investigate the possibility of sharing a superintendent with another district.
- Encourage state legislators and state board members to fund research that focuses on recruiting and retaining quality educational leaders.
Superintendents' salary analysis
The decrease in the number of districts responding, from 542 in 2004-05 to 307 this year, may have impacted the reported results. The results also might have been impacted by the early retirement incentives that have been provided for superintendents. Regardless, it is alarming that salaries are decreasing while demands for quality educational leaders are increasing across the state of Illinois and the country.
This year, the superintendent earning the highest reported salary of $201,596 was a high school district administrator in the Northeast region. Reported high salaries for high school districts ranged from $201,596 in the Northeast to $114,577 in the Southwest. For elementary districts, the range of high salaries was $165,287 in the Northeast to a low of $100,522 in the Southeast region.
The high salary reports for unit districts ranged from the Northeast region, with a reported salary of $166,589, to $136,313 in the Southeast. The lowest reported salary for a high school district ($73,856) was in the Southeast. The lowest salary for an elementary district ($55,000) also was in the Southeast. For a unit district, the lowest salary ($65,000) was in the Southwest, followed closely by the unit district in the Southeast ($66,623).
In spite of competitiveness for quality superintendents, the mean salaries for superintendents have not increased or declined in 10 of the 18 categories addressed by this survey. The highest increase in mean salary over the last year for high school districts was East Central with 8.1 percent. The West Central region was the only other high school district to reflect an increase (1 percent).
The West Central again demonstrated the highest increase (8.3 percent) in mean salary for elementary districts. There were significant decreases in the Northeast (-10.6 percent), Southeast (-7.4 percent) and East Central (-3.5 percent) elementary district mean salaries. In the unit districts, the Southwest region demonstrated the greatest increase with 4.4 percent.
The mean for unit district superintendents, which had risen in the past years from $100,388 in 2002-03 to $109,574 in 2003-04 and then to $110,493 for 2004-05, declined this year to $109,195. The same statistic for high school districts is from $137,230 in 2002-03 to $139,919 in 2003-04, down to $136,770 in 2004-05 and then to $126,00 in 2005-06, a decrease of $13,919 over the past two years.
In elementary districts, the mean increased dramatically, from $113,260 in 2002-03 to $130,103 in 2003-04. However, for the 2004-05 year, the mean salary declined to $129,618 and for the 2005-06 it declined even further to $112,865.
The Northeast region reported the highest mean salary for both high school, elementary and unit districts. The Southeast continues to trail the other regions with the lowest reported mean salaries for both high school and elementary school districts.
Finally, while the range of salaries for superintendents in the state varies from a low of $55,000 to a high of $201,596, the average mean salary for all superintendents reflects a decrease from $120,618 in 2004-05 to $112,011 in 2005-06.
Principals' salary analysis
The sample size of principal responses varied greatly by level and region, with nearly all having fewer respondents this year. As with the superintendents' information, this fact, combined with early retirement incentives, could contribute to the changes noted in high, low and mean salaries.
The mean salary of all principals ranged from $84,679 at the elementary level to $90,430 at the middle school level and $89,829 at the high school level, yielding an average mean salary of $86,855 for all principals responding to the survey. There was a slight increase of about $1,300 in mean salaries for elementary and middle school principals, while the high school principals increase was about $400.
The mean of all levels increased from $85,805 in 2004-05 to $86,855 for this year. As in previous years, the highest mean salaries were in the Northeast region, which reports a significantly higher mean salary than any other region. They exceed the next highest region by $13,242 while the range of the other regions, from lowest to highest, is $9,236.
For elementary principals, the highest reported salary ($162,239) was in the Northeast; the lowest of the high reported salaries was in the Southeast ($94,412). The lowest reported salary ($37,293) was in the Southeast region.
The highest gains in mean salaries were 8.4 percent in the Southwest and 4.4 percent in the Southeast. East Central was the only region reporting a decrease (-.2 percent) in mean salaries. However, the gains in the other three regions were very small, ranging from 1.5 percent to 2.3 percent.
At the junior high level, reported high salaries ranged from $173,965 in the Northwest region to $93,143 in the Southeast region. In three regions, the highest salaries reported fell below the $100,000 level that was the standard last year.
In the low category, the Northwest region reported the lowest salary ($51,516), followed closely by the West Central region ($52,068) and the Southeast ($53,197). The highest increase in mean salaries was 5.7 percent in the Northeast with minimal change in the other regions, ranging from -.9 percent to 1.1 percent.
For high school principals, Northeast ($177,705) ranked first in the high category, followed by East Central at $140,791. For the first time in four years, the high salary in all regions did not exceed $100,000, with the Southwest region reporting its highest salary at $99,262. The lowest salaries reported ranged from $40,000 in the Southeast to $63,830 in the Northeast. The other four regions had low salaries in the $50,000 bracket. As with most other levels and regions, there were very small percentages of increases in mean salaries. In the Northeast, Southeast and Southwest, the reported mean salaries decreased.
In this time of increased demands on principals at all levels, it is discouraging to have only two regions/levels report a mean salary increase of more than 5 percent. In six regions/levels, there was a decrease in mean salaries and, in the other 10, the average increase was only 1.8 percent.
If districts desire to retain outstanding principals, they will need to closely evaluate the salary increases provided to these leaders, who greatly impact student achievement. Studies have shown that, next to classroom teachers, effective principals have the most impact on student achievement.
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About the survey methodology
The Teacher Service Record data aggregated the results of 307 reports, from a possible 823 full-time superintendents with a response rate of 37.3 percent. This was a decrease of 135 district reports from last year. The data regarding principals also demonstrated a decrease in respondents from 1,758 to 1,228. With 3,688 full-time principals in the state, the data reflect a response rate of 33.4 percent. Much of this decrease is attributed to a new timeline for reporting the salary information.
The salaries reported are for "total creditable earnings," or the same amount as turned into TRS. However, this data is not shared with or taken from TRS records. "Total creditable earnings" can include any and all of the following data:
- Base salary
- Extra duty pay
- Paid retirement
- Buyout of vacation days
Some districts did not submit the report because of unresolved salary disputes, and no part-time or interim superintendent salaries are included. Salaries were excluded if a social security number crosscheck 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 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 2005. 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.
Key to Salary Information Graphics
N = Number of responses
High = Highest reported salary
Low = Lowest reported salary
Mean = Equal number of responses both above and below this salary
Std. Deviation = How tightly salaries are grouped around the "Mean" (The smaller the number, the more tightly salaries are grouped around the mean; the larger the number, the further apart the salaries are spread.)
Region listed = Salary information reported for this year
FY05 = Salary information reported for last year
% change = Difference in mean salary from previous year
Editor's Note: The authors thank Connie Wise, Steve Scaife and the 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