Boards urged to take proactive salary stance
by Max E. Pierson and Robert E. Freeman
Max Pierson and Robert Freeman are professors of Educational Administration at Western
Most boards of education will be faced with difficult financial decisions in 2002-03.
Depending upon whose statistics you like, somewhere between 67 and 80 percent of the
boards of education in Illinois are filing deficit budgets.
Some boards will be pressured by community and teacher groups to attempt to save money
when hiring a new superintendent. Based on 30-plus years of experience for each of the
authors, we would suggest this would be a mistake.
During times of reduction-in-force, school districts need quality, experienced,
sensitive school leaders. Anyone can reduce a school budget but to do so, while
maintaining as many programs as possible, ensuring that the rights of all staff members
are observed and cushioning the blow to all constituent groups, requires knowledge, skill
Most school superintendents accept the fact that the only way to achieve a significant
raise in salary is to move to a different district. While this may appear to be an
attractive alternative to some school boards, the costs to the district can be enormous.
When this occurs while a board is engaged in reduction-in-force, the results can be
First, there is a known leadership vacuum at a critical time. The sitting
superintendent is considered a "lame duck." Unfortunately, this may reduce his
or her influence with the board and credibility within the community. Further, the board
must pay the costs of a search, diverting money from other worthwhile educational pursuits
at a critical time.
Finally, there is the lost time during which the new superintendent is establishing
momentum to attain district goals. When a school board fails to provide a fair and
equitable salary for the administrative staff, then inevitably administrators seek new
positions that provide greater financial rewards for their talent. This, then, causes the
board to seek new administrators and provides an additional hurdle for the board -
the law of supply and demand.
There is no doubt that the supply of experienced school administrators is at an
all-time low. Surveys of superintendents are consistent. Over 43 percent of the sitting
superintendents indicate they intend to retire in the next four years. That figure is not
only being reported in Illinois, but throughout the country.
That means school boards will either have to reduce the disparity between the different
regions by increasing salaries downstate to match those in the suburban areas or accept
the migration of experienced, qualified school administrators to the northeast region.
When reviewing the data for Illinois' Northeast region, it becomes obvious that
district size and type are not necessary determinants for superintendent salaries as has
been the rule downstate. At the same time, the demand for administrators, as evidenced by
the number of attendance centers and districts, is not decreasing significantly enough to
alleviate or match the supply side issue.
Boards need to be proactive in setting administrator salaries. We hope the following
information will enable board members to provide "fair" increases for incumbent
school administrators and provide guidance for boards of education that seek a new school
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's
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 Department of Educational Administration and Supervision, Western Illinois
University, compiled and analyzed the information.
Response rate and statistical methodology
The Teacher Service Record data aggregates the results of 494 district reports
from 892 possible districts with a response rate of 55.3 percent. Some districts have not
submitted the report yet because of unresolved salary disputes, and some are still in
transit from the regional offices. No part-time or interim superintendent salaries are
This year, both electronic and paper filings were used. Salaries were excluded if a
social security number cross check indicted that the district had reported a lower salary
this year as compared to last year for the same individual. This resulted in most
principals' salaries and most superintendents' salaries from the reporting
districts to be used, and it gave a somewhat random distribution throughout the state.
Data from the regions, while not complete, appear to be representative. The salary data
from Chicago Public schools is not contained in this report. The data were sorted
by region and district type before the range and mean were calculated.
This year, as last, the superintendent earning the highest reported salary ($237,741)
was a high school district superintendent in the Northeast region of the state. Again, the
Northeast region paid the highest salaries for two categories of district: high school and
The West Central region paid the highest unit district superintendent's salary and
was second highest for high school superintendents. The East Central led all regions for
the highest percent of increase in high school superintendent salaries (13.5 percent) but
posted a significant drop in both elementary and unit district superintendents'
salaries (-8.1 and -4.0, respectively).
The Southeast posted the largest percentage drop in elementary district superintendent
salaries at -13.9 percent. This could be attributable to either a large number of
retirements, or the fact that there are twice as many districts reporting this year as
last, many of which could be small. However, the data do not provide an answer to either
High school superintendents, overall, had the strongest percentage of increase in
median salaries, with only one region (Northwest) showing a decline in median salaries.
Interestingly, the median salary for elementary superintendents in the Northeast region
was flat. While it is not probable that the superintendent salaries did not rise, the
additional number reported and a significant number of retirements with lower priced
replacements probably explain this phenomenon.
In any case, elementary superintendents, as a category, had the largest number of
regions reporting significant decreases in mean salary. Finally, while the range of
salaries for superintendents in the state varies from a low of $54,000 to a high of
$237,741, the average salary for all superintendents is $109,228. Please remember that
this average includes all types and all sizes of districts.
First, it should be noted that the salaries quoted this year are based on a sample of
the salaries of 1,540 principals compared to 1,489 principals in last year's survey.
There are approximately 3,900 building principals in the state. In most regions, the
sample size is larger than last year and this fact could contribute to some of the changes
noted in high, low and average salaries The average salary for all principals ranged from
$70,295 in the Southeast region to $92,864 in the Northeast region.
Compared to last year, the average salary in the Southeast decreased by $745 and the
average salary in the Northeast region increased by $2,619.
The highest overall salary percentage increases were noted in the West Central region
with the reported average salary for high school principals increasing 9.1 percent. The
second highest reported increase was in the Southwest region where high school salaries
increased by a reported 7.1 percent. In the Northeast region, which has traditionally had
the highest reported salaries, high school principal salaries were up 6.3 percent and
middle school principal salaries were also up 6.3 percent.
As has been true for the past seven years, high school principals, on the average,
still make more than middle school principals, who make more than elementary school
principals. The highest reported salaries for high school principals ranged from $172,000
(compared to $191,650 last year) in the Northeast region to $100,000 in the East Central
region. It should be noted that this is the second time that 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 $138,915 in the
Northeast to $92,328 in the Southwest. Among elementary school principals, the highest
reported salaries ranged from $162,354 in the Northeast to $98,414 in the Southeast.
Average salaries for high school, middle school and elementary school principals are
highest in the Northeast region. It would appear that downstate school districts are
making great efforts to increase principal salaries to be competitive with the suburban
areas of the state.
As reported in previous years, the job market for superintendents and principals is
really a statewide, and in many cases, national market.
Now is the time for school districts to retain experienced, knowledgeable and skilled
leadership. A shrinking pool of experienced candidates and an ever-increasing demand have
definitely made this a "seller's market."
This is probably not a time when the board should attempt to save money by offering a
lower salary to the new superintendent than his or her predecessor received. Districts
attempting to hire a new superintendent should "pull out the stops" and make the
best salary package offer in their initial advertisement.
Some boards that attempt to save money find themselves conducting two or three searches
and then using an interim superintendent. These boards end up being sadder, but wiser.
Boards should consider the following suggestions: First, if you have high quality
administrators in your district, then pay a competitive salary (above the average for your
district type) to retain them, particularly now. Second, if you find potentially high
quality administrative talent in your teaching staff, encourage those teachers and assist
them in moving to administrative positions within the district.
Communities and boards that value quality leadership and wish to attract and retain
such must be prepared to offer salaries that are competitive with the average salaries
being received statewide. If boards have quality leaders who can be promoted from within
the district, these people should merit salaries comparable to what they would receive if
they moved to another district. If they don't receive comparable money from their
home districts, they will seek a district that will give them equitable pay.
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 for Rural Affairs for her assistance in analyzing
data supplied by ISBE.
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