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May/June 2016

Administrator salary survey
Good-bye, gender gap?
Written by Lora Wolff
Analysis by Dean Halverson

Lora Wolff, PhD. and Dean Halverson, PhD.are professors of Educational Leadership at Western Illinois University in Macomb.

A recent piece by Diane Rehm on National Public Radio featured a discussion about salaries. There was nothing much new in the piece: One caller talked about the disparity between professional athletes’ salaries and teacher salaries. Then a discussion ensued about the discrepancy in salaries between male and female professional athletes. The conversation then moved to a more general debate about the discrepancy in salaries between men and women.

We are not here to weigh in on pro athletes’ salaries compared to teachers. This is about Illinois principal and superintendent salaries. However, after reviewing the current salary data provided by the Illinois State Board of Education, we see that Illinois may be thwarting the prevalence of men making more money than women for comparable work. Perhaps this trend will be NPR’s next salary discussion.

Administrator salaries rise

In examining the average principal salaries in Illinois, the first item of note is the change in the number of salaries reported (see Table 1). There was an increase of 59 salaries reported in 2015, up from 3,850 reported salaries in 2013 and 2014. This does not necessarily mean there were 59 additional principals, but only that 59 more salaries were reported.

The average principal salary in 2015 was $100,521 and represented a modest one percent increase over the previous year. This was the third consecutive year with an increase in the average principal salary. The median salary ($98,346) was also higher for the third consecutive year (see Table 2).

The highest principal salary was almost $212,000, which was a decrease from previous years. Of course, both the high salaries and low salaries may well be outliers and distort the true picture of principal salaries.

The average superintendent salary in Illinois in 2015 was $136,567 (see Table 3). This represented a three percent increase over 2014 after a 1 percent decline in the previous year.

The median salary saw an increase of more than $5,600 (see Table 4). Based on this, it would appear that there was some significant movement in the “middle” salaries over the previous year. In all three fiscal years (2013, 2014, and 2015) the median superintendent salaries increased.

Disappearing gender pay-gap

The biggest takeaway from the latest data analysis is that the world of school administration is changing related to gender, at least in Illinois. In addition to hard data presented here, an anecdote by author Lora Wolff may illustrate the point: “When I first began going to state-level administrative meetings, I never had to wait in the line to go to the ladies’ room, because I was one of only a few female administrators. Nowadays, there’s a line.”

The first trend in this data relates to a change in the gender of principals. Over the past three years, there are more female principals than male (2,050 female to 1,858 male in 2015). This is a significant change in the principalship, which has been historically dominated by men. When examining the salary gap between female and male principals, the earning gap has also all but disappeared. In fact, for the last three fiscal years, female principals’ average salary exceeded those of the male principals (see Table 5). On average, women out-earned men by approximately $200. Female salaries were also higher than male salaries when examining the median.

The same can be said for the salary gap between male and female superintendent salaries. For decades, female superintendent salaries lagged behind their male counterparts. However, since 2013 Illinois female superintendents have out-earned male superintendents (see Table 7). For fiscal year 2015 female superintendents earned over $6000 more than males. When examining the median salaries, female superintendents out-earned male superintendents for fiscal years 2013, 2014, and 2015 (see Table 8). This data set shows more male superintendents in Illinois (243 female to 532 male in 2015).

Illinois and national   comparisons

To put Illinois salaries into a national perspective: Illinois’ top principal salaries (those at the 90th and 75th percentiles) are above the national average (see Table 9). Salaries at the 50th percentile, 25th percentile, and 10th percentile are below the national average.

Comparing Illinois superintendent salaries with national superintendent salaries, Illinois’ salaries are higher only at the 90th percentile. In all other groups (75th, 50th, 25th, and 10th percentiles), the national average is higher.

So what are the big takeaways from this year’s superintendent and principal data?

Illinois principal salaries increased.

Illinois superintendent salaries increased.

Illinois has more superintendents compared to Iowa and as compared to other similar states such as Michigan and New York. It may be time for Illinois to look to more unit districts.

Female principal and superintendent salaries in Illinois are now higher than their male counterparts.

Female principals now outnumber male principals in Illinois.

Authors’ notes: Thanks to Mark Hobneck of ISBE’s data and progress reporting division for providing the raw data. For information about ISBE’s data collection process, visit Thanks also to Deepthi Sangara, graduate assistant at Western Illinois University, for sorting and analyzing the data.

About the administrator salary series

This piece is part of a series of analyses on superintendent and principal salaries regularly written for The Illinois School Board Journal. The work is undertaken by a team of professors of educational administration from Western Illinois University, using data provided by the Illinois State Board of Education.

Readers of previous administrative salaries pieces may note that, in many cases, this year’s reported salaries are lower than what was reported in the previous articles “Part I: Small rise through tough times” and   “Part II: Salaries reflect regional disparities.” This is because ISBE began reporting salaries in a different manner beginning with the 2012-13 school year. Salaries are now reported as the base salary without retirement or other benefits, whereas the data provided prior to 2012-2013 did include that information.

Another change from previous articles is that salaries by regions and by the type of district were not reported for the 2012-13 or the 2013-14 school years, so those comparisons could not be made for this article. ISBE has reversed that practice, so when the next data set becomes available, regional analysis will again be available.

The series can be read online at

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