2007-2011 Salaries

Administrator Salaries, Part I



In 1997, the Illinois Association of School Boards, working with researchers in the field of educational leadership, published a report on the salaries of superintendents and principals in Illinois. Data for the annual administrative salaries study was obtained through surveys with un-audited information reported by school districts to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) on the Teachers Service Record.

From 1999 to 2005, the response rate of participating districts ranged from 45 to 70 percent. For the 2005-2006 school year, only 38 percent of districts responded. The annual survey ceased in 2007, when the information became unavailable for research purposes because of changes in reporting standards and pending reporting mandates.

In 2009, Public Act 96-0434 required Illinois school districts to report administrator and teacher salary and benefits information to ISBE. Requirements included publishing administrator salary information on the district’s website, presenting it at a board of education meeting and reporting it to the regional superintendent. The Illinois School Code was further amended in 2011 to reflect changes in the reporting dates.

With reporting standards in place and the data being made available to researchers, IASB’s “annual” study of administrator salaries is now revived. Data that has become available from the missing years is presented in the accompanying articles and graphs, although due to technical difficulties, some districts did not submit data as required. Current data will be analyzed in the January/February issue of the Journal.

Small rise during tough times

By Dean Halverson and Lora Wolff

Dean Halverson is a professor of educational leadership at Western Illinois University. Lora Wolff is an assistant professor of educational leadership, also at Western.

Nine years have passed since the last review of administrative salaries appeared in the January/February 2006 issue of The Illinois School Board Journal. During that time, the economic climate changed, as did the education climate in Illinois. How have administrator salaries changed with the times?

This article provides an overview of salary changes from 2007 to 2011, a five-year span for which data was previously unavailable to researchers. The timeframe includes the recession that began in late 2007 and the financially-stressful times that followed. A current salary review, for 2012 through 2014, will be published in the January/February 2015 issue of the Journal. The most recent data will be more comprehensive, because it includes the timeframe in which school districts were required to submit salary information for all administrators. Previously, reporting administrative salaries was voluntary.

As school funding dwindles in most states, school boards are challenged to utilize available funds in a manner that is most beneficial. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that as of 2012, there were 35 states with funding below 2008 levels. When the recession hit in late 2007, an unprecedented decrease in state revenue resulted in 17 states cutting per-student funding by over 10 percent from 2008 levels. The percent change in spending per student, adjusted for inflation from FY08 to FY13, ranged from -21.8 percent in Arizona to +28 percent in North Dakota. Of the 35 states with decreased percentages, Illinois ranked 14th with a decrease of 11.3 percent. The same report indicated that Illinois had a $260 decrease in spending per pupil from FY08 to FY13 when adjusted for inflation.

In most school districts, personnel costs, including salaries and related benefits, make up over 80 percent of the budget. In times of financial crisis, districts closely examine this area of spending. As school boards struggle with funding shortfalls, one specific area of scrutiny is salaries of administrators. The result is a balancing act for school boards as each must demonstrate fiscal responsibility and at the same time provide salaries that will attract and retain high-quality school and district administrators. The National Survey of Salaries and Wages in Public Schools reports average salaries for school and district administrators across the nation from the 2006-07 school year through the 2009-10 school year (see Table 1 for national data).

At all levels, salaries increased each year. High school principals saw the greatest percentage increase (29.4 percent) followed closely by superintendent salaries (27.6 percent). It appears that the recession and financial crisis had a greater impact on the middle/junior high and elementary principals, with these two groups of administrators having only an 8 percent increase in salary over four years. However, since the Consumer Price Index increased at a very low rate during this time period, most administrators had some level of increase in buying power. Obviously, the districts found other areas to cut; most likely in personnel since over 80 percent of the budget is allocated to that area.

What the data does not address are other potential budget-reducing measures: the reduction of administrators or other school employees. Because of the difficulty in obtaining this type of data across the nation, this article does not address other budget reduction possibilities.

Average administrator salaries at the national level increased, but what happened to administrator salaries in the state of Illinois? Compare the Illinois data from 2006-07 through 2010-11 to the national data provided.

Illinois superintendent salary analysis

Numbers can be deceiving. When reviewing the superintendent data (see Table 2 for superintendent salaries by level), a quick perusal would lead one to believe that there were fewer superintendents in Illinois (55 fewer in fact) in 2011 than there were in 2007. However, this number is misleading because districts were not required to report the superintendent (and principal) salaries in 2007. This article reviews the data that was reported.

From 2007-2011 (four school years) the average superintendent salary increased for elementary, high school and unit districts. Superintendents of unit districts saw the highest percentage increase (12 percent) with elementary and high school districts following closely behind (8 percent and 9 percent).

The numbers show the high salary for elementary and unit district superintendents increased while the high salary of the high school superintendent decreased by $70,000. This decrease could be the result of the retirement or resignation of a superintendent or the lack of requirement to report salaries.

It is interesting to note that the average annual salary increases for superintendents ranged from 2 to 3 percent, which is below the average collective bargaining agreement settlements during that same time period.

In examining the average salaries of superintendents by region (view regions), there was, with one exception, an increase in salaries at all levels – elementary, high school and unit – in all six regions. The exception was for elementary superintendents in the southeast region, where the reported average salary decreased by 1 percent from 2007 to 2011 (see Table 4 for superintendent salary data by region).

Superintendents in each type of district in the northeast had the highest average salaries. The lowest average elementary superintendent salary was in the southeast region ($96,312), the lowest average high school superintendent salary was in east central region ($123,331), and the lowest average unit superintendent salary was also in the southeast region ($120,801).

The greatest percentage increase in the average superintendent salary was 17 percent for the southeast high school superintendents. A 14 percent average salary increase was reported for west central elementary, southwest high school, southwest unit, and west central unit superintendents.

Finally, the range of Illinois superintendent salaries in 2011 varied from a low of $42,502 to a high of $374,302, a difference of nearly $332,000. When examining the average salaries, the difference of almost $50,000 is also significant.

Illinois principal salary analysis

When examining the data presented for principals – the number of principals, the high salary, the low salary, the average salary, and the average percent change in salary – what jumps out is the number of principals in 2007 as compared to 2011 (see Table 3 for principal salaries by level). Overall, there was an increase in the number of principals responding, with 60 additional principals and a 7 percent increase overall. Furthermore, there were increases at all three levels (elementary, middle school, and high school). A modest increase at the middle school level (an increase of 12 or 2 percent) was noted in 2011. In that time period there were 95 more elementary principals (a 4 percent increase); however, there was a 19.7 percent increase in the number of high school principals. The increase in the number of principals contrasts with the decline in the number of superintendents. Again, the increase in the number of principals could be due to voluntary reporting in 2007.

Furthermore, salaries increased during that same time period, although the annual average salary percentage increase was below 2 percent. Again, this percentage is lower than many district’s collective bargaining settlements.

At the elementary level there was a 7 percent increase in average salaries with the average elementary principal in Illinois making $110,092. During this time the high salary for elementary principals declined by approximately $30,000. This may be due to veteran principal retirements, elementary principals moving to other administrative positions, or merely dependent on which districts reported salaries.

The only increase in principal’s high salary occurred at the middle school level, although this level’s average increase of 7 percent was the same as elementary school levels. The average high school principal salary increased by just 5 percent, with the highest salary declining by roughly $17,000.

In examining principal salaries in the six regions of Illinois (see Table 5 for principal salaries by region) for all three levels – elementary, high school and unit – the northeast part of Illinois had the highest average salaries and the highest salaries. At the elementary level the highest salary was $189,730 (northeast region) and the east central region reported the lowest high salary of $121,843 (a difference of almost $68,000). The disparity between regions was even greater at the middle school level with the northeast having the highest high salary ($207,186) and the southeast reporting the lowest high salary ($124,757). This represents a difference of over $82,000 in the high salaries earned by middle school principals. And the disparity grows for high school principals with the northeast again having the highest high salary ($219,426) and southeast having the lowest high salary ($123,854), a difference of over $95,500.

For all three levels, the lowest salaries for principals increased with the elementary level having the lowest salary ($27,584).

When looking at the average principal salaries across the state the following key points should be noted:

  • The average salaries increased in all regions and at all levels.
  • There is no clear pattern across regions or across levels in the percentage of average salary increase.
  • The average salaries of elementary, middle school and high school principals are quite close, with a span of approximately $5,300 and high school principals having the highest average salary.

Other considerations

Although the information provided in this article is interesting, we would remind readers that all districts were not required to report salary data in 2007.

The state’s requirement for all districts to report salary data will allow for a better understanding of administrative salary data and provide for more complete analysis in the future.

The disparity in administrative salaries across the State of Illinois reflects the disparity in school funding across the state.

Recommendations for school boards

Read part II of this series in the January/February issue of The Illinois School Board Journal, which will analyze the more complete data from 2012-2014 and offer updated recommendations for administrative salary considerations.   


The authors wish to thank Mark Hobneck of ISBE’s data analysis and progress reporting division, for providing the raw data and advice on sorting the data by regions. Thanks also to Serena Ju Huang, graduate assistant at Western Illinois University, for sorting and organizing the data.

For information about the ISBE’s data collection process, visit http://www.isbe.net/research/htmls/salary_report.htm.

Previous administrative salary reports, covering 1998 to 2007, are available on the IASB website Here.