Pressure for quality drives salary increases
by Dean Halverson and Sandra Watkins
Dean Halverson and Sandra Watkins are professors of Educational Administration and Supervision at Western Illinois University in Macomb.
Hiring and supporting quality superintendents is essential if districts are to survive and thrive in the 21st century. This is the number one challenge for boards of education now and in the future.
During the past school year, the majority of boards of education listened to a call for increased accountability and a "results orientation" to running school districts. The No Child Left Behind Act has put increased pressures on board members to hire highly qualified superintendents.
Often, however, school boards are pressured by vocal stakeholders to maintain a status quo salary for the superintendent or to hire inexperienced superintendents to save money. At the same time, superintendents and local school board members are feeling increased pressure for higher student achievement as well as fiscal restraints. The latest Illinois figures indicate that approximately 80 percent of the state's school districts are operating with deficit budgets.
In 2002-03, boards of education were looking for superintendents who were dynamic leaders, fiscally astute, exemplary communicators, and who have unquestionable expertise in curriculum, instruction and assessment.
Recent conversations with recruiting firms and current surveys indicate that experienced, "results oriented" superintendents are in high demand across the country. Competition for the "walk on water" superintendent is becoming more competitive due to the enormous challenges districts are facing. And, at the same time, approximately 40 percent of the current "experienced" superintendents intend to retire in the next five years.
Current superintendents view the salary differential within Illinois as an enticement to move to districts that will enhance their fiscal well being and their future retirement. This results in school districts constantly looking for a new superintendent and excessive turnover throughout the state.
During the superintendent recruiting process, school boards become very engaged in recruiting and hiring a new superintendent, often to the exclusion of other significant challenges and priorities in the district. In addition, the sitting superintendent becomes the lame duck. The district then loses focus and attention to the highest priority: student achievement.
The revolving door superintendency creates havoc in the ranks. As each new superintendent initiates a "new agenda" with its own special priorities, a new direction is then set for schools and the school district. Principals, teachers and support personnel are constantly vocalizing that they are getting quite weary of the constant change of direction in priorities.
To make the best of this situation, boards should:
Hire highly qualified administrators who are dynamic leaders, fiscally astute, great communicators, and who have unquestionable expertise in curriculum, instruction and assessment. But the competition for this type of leader is now fierce. Because districts are now competing nationally in a "sellers" market, they should make their best salary offer in the initial advertisement.
Look now within the district's teaching ranks to identify teachers with great leadership potential. Look at building administrators for quality leaders who are already in the district. Encourage and empower these people to become your future leaders, rather than moving to another district for leadership opportunities.
Strive to retain the experienced, knowledgeable and skilled leadership in your district by providing them with the necessary salary and benefits. Reward them by giving them support and recognition.
Work with present administrators who demonstrate a passion and purpose. Encourage them to market and communicate the importance of public schools in a democracy.
Seek avenues to communicate the importance of school leadership so the community will better understand the need for the competitive salaries necessary to ensure quality schools.
Information from surveys such as this are intended to provide boards of education with the data needed to determine "fair" increases for incumbent administrators and provide guidance for boards of education who seek new school administrators.
Superintendent salary analysis
This year, the superintendent earning the highest reported salary of $255,744 was an elementary district superintendent in the Northeast region. Once again, the Northeast region paid the highest salaries for two categories of districts: elementary, $255,744, and high school, $238,985. The East Central region paid the highest unit district superintendent's salary, $228,571, with a 61 percent increase over last year.
East Central also paid an increase of 16.4 percent at the elementary district superintendent's level but demonstrated a slight decline (-5.6 percent) at the high school district superintendent's level. The Northwest region posted the highest increase (16.5 percent) at the high school level and also demonstrated increases both at the elementary level (6.2 percent) and unit level (7.2 percent).
The mean for unit district superintendents has risen from $100,388 in 2002-03 to $109,574 in 2003-04, an increase of $9,186, or 9 percent. The same statistic for high school districts also rose from $137,230 in 2002-03 to $139,919 in 2003-04. In elementary school districts, the mean increased dramatically, from $113,260 and $130,103 over the past year.
The largest decline in high school superintendent mean salaries occurred in the West Central region with a loss of 10.5 percent; a decline of 5.6 percent also occurred in the East Central region. Since the sample size of three and four, respectively, was small, the retirement of one highly paid superintendent may have made a significant difference.
Finally, while the range of salaries for superintendents in the state varies from a low of $58,468 to a high of $255,744, the average salary for all superintendents reflects a 10 percent increase from $109,228 in 2002-03 to $120,398 for the 2003-04 school year. This average includes all types and sizes of districts.
Principal salary analysis
The salaries quoted this year are based on a sample of 1,604 principals compared to 1,540 principals in last year's survey. There are approximately 3,600 full-time building principals in the state. Compared to last year, the sample sizes varied greatly by level and region, which could contribute to the changes noted in high, low and average salaries. The mean salary of all principals ranged from $71,378 in the Southeast to $97,002 in the Northeast. In comparison, the mean salary in the West Central region decreased by $4,446 and the mean salary in the East Central region increased by $5,514.
The highest overall salary percentage increases were noted in the East Central region with a reported mean salary of $77,280, an increase of 7.7 percent. The second highest increase was in the Southwest where salaries increased by a reported 6 percent. In the Northeast, which has traditionally reported the highest salaries, high school principal salaries were up 2.1 percent, middle school principals were up 4 percent and elementary principals were up 5.4 percent
As has been true for the past eight years, high school principals, on average, still make more than middle school principals, who make more than elementary school principals. The highest salaries for high school principals ranged from $165,000 in the Northeast to $106,214 in the Southeast. This is the third time the highest reported salary for high school principals has exceeded $100,000 in all six regions.
For middle school principals, the highest reported salaries ranged from $148,873 in the Northwest to $92,000 in the West Central, the only region in which the highest reported salary for middle school principals did not exceed $100,000. Among elementary school principals, the highest reported salaries ranged from $164,709 in the Northeast to $88,626 in the Southeast.
Again this year, the highest average salaries for most principals are in the northern regions, but would appear that downstate districts are making efforts to increase principal salaries to be competitive with the northern areas of the state.
Editor's note: The authors thank Connie Wise, Steve Scaife and 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 aggregates the results of 442 district reports, from 889 possible districts with a response rate of 49.7 percent. Some districts have not submitted the report because of unresolved salary disputes, some are still in transit from regional offices and no part-time or interim superintendents' salaries are included.
Salaries were excluded if a social security number cross check indicated the district had reported a lower salary this year as compared to last year for the same individual. This resulted in most principals' and superintendents' salaries from the reporting districts to be used, and gave a somewhat random distribution throughout the state.
Data from the regions, while not complete, appears to be representative. Salary data from Chicago Public Schools is not contained in this report. The data was sorted by region and district type before the range and mean were calculated.
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 2003. 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 Administration and Supervision, Western Illinois University, compiled and analyzed the information.