Do we have to pay top dollar for school superintendents?

The AJC has a companion piece to its weekend story on how few systems are cutting their highest-level central office folks. The latest story talks about how well paid school superintendents are in  metro districts.

The real question is whether districts have to pay these high salaries to attract and keep good superintendents. They all claim they do, that this a market-driven decision. (The Regents say the same thing about the salaries they offer college presidents.)

According to the AJC:

At least four local superintendents earn more than the vice president of the United States and one earns nearly as much as the president.

As school districts face unprecedented budget cuts and collective layoffs of more than 1,500 teachers, superintendent compensation remains hefty, even with recent decreases.

The highest-paid superintendent in the metro area is Gwinnett’s Alvin Wilbanks, who earns $382,819, according to the Gwinnett school district. Wilbanks actually will make less than before because of furlough days.

Last year, Wilbanks earned $387,934, according to the open.georgia.gov Web site, which tracks government spending. He oversees 158,329 students and the largest school district in the state. In contrast, President Barack Obama makes $400,000 per year, according to the White House Web site.

“I know that’s a sensitive issue,” said Stuart Bennett, Georgia Association of Educational Leaders executive director, speaking of superintendents’ compensation. “But it’s a job with a lot of responsibility and a lot of pressure. Superintendents have a tremendous responsibility on them. They are CEOs.”Gwinnett school district’s total budget is $1.7 billion with 22,000 employees.

“The fact is they are a large company,” Bennett said. “That might seem to be a high salary for education, but it’s relatively meager for a company that size.”

A superintendent’s compensation is not easy to pinpoint. The compensation is spelled out in the contract, but amendments and other changes are hard to track. When The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked metro Atlanta school districts to disclose their superintendent’s compensation, pay was broken down into different pieces or not at all. Some districts included retirement benefits, cellphone stipends and cashed-out, unused vacation time when calculating a superintendent’s compensation. Others did not.

Beverly Hall, Atlanta Public Schools superintendent, earned $344,331 last year, the school district said. She is the second-highest paid superintendent in the metro area and runs one of the smallest school districts with 48,696 students. Hall’s compensation includes a $78,115 bonus, a cellphone stipend of $1,200 and a car allowance of $666.

In 2008, Hall earned $352,097. That included an $82,000 bonus, $1,200 for the phone, $588 for the car and $5,000 in miscellaneous. Hall’s current compensation is smaller because her bonus decreased by $4,000 and she did not receive the $5,000 in unspecified pay.

Hall’s bonus fluctuates from year to year depending on whether she meets her performance targets, which are partially based on student achievement, Atlanta school district spokesman Keith Bromery said.

“She didn’t meet all of them,” Bromery said. “We set a high bar here for student performance. She can’t achieve 100 percent of them in most instances.”

Hall’s compensation was higher in records kept by open.georgia.gov than the school district listed: $353,710 in 2008 and $389,314.56 in 2009. Those figures came from payroll data supplied by the school district to the state auditor.

Hall’s compensation is about six times more than the average Atlanta teacher’s salary of $57,740. Wilbanks’ compensation is seven times more than the average Gwinnett teacher’s salary of $55,795.

In DeKalb County, former Superintendent Crawford Lewis earned $287,992. That’s more than Vice President Joe Biden, whose reported earnings were $276,463.

Clayton County’s superintendent earns about $276,629, still more than Biden. Fulton County’s superintendent earns $260,483, including $13,675 in a retirement allowance, $9,600 in car allowance and $12,000 in expense allowance.

Cobb County’s superintendent, who runs the second-largest district in the state, earns $216,697, which includes a car allowance. That’s more than Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who earned $139,339, according to open.georgia.gov.

Cobb is reeling from potentially the deepest classroom cuts in the metro area, with 579 teaching positions and 56 para-professionals among the job losses.

Cobb superintendent Fred Sanderson took a 2 percent pay cut and five furlough days, and his compensation dropped from $224,494 to $216,697 this year, district spokesman Jay Dillon said.

176 comments Add your comment

clifdog

May 24th, 2010
8:10 am

s

May 24th, 2010
8:21 am

The school administrators in this state are not worth 100,000 pennies – let alone DOLLARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

John

May 24th, 2010
8:24 am

They get paid way too much, considering Georgia is usually at the bottom of educated states.

Old Teacher

May 24th, 2010
8:24 am

They are NOT CEO’s! This is not a business- we are IN the business of educating! As a teacher in a suburban county- shame on those superintendents that did NOT take a pay cut. Many of the top dogs (associate superintendents, etc) have cars and even GCPS has at least 1 bus supervisor that drives a county car on I-85 every school day all of the way towards Toccoa! I believe she gets off at exit 154 or 160- which are above the Commerce outlet exit. Gwinnett County taxpayers- you should demand that this stops! And Mr. Wilbanks- the county pays you back for your contribution to YOUR own retirement? REALLY?! Is that before or after tax dollars? As a teacher, why are we taking all of the hits?

Old Teacher

May 24th, 2010
8:26 am

Just a thought…..if this is a business….are we making a profit? Because if not, then the shareholders should fire you!!

John

May 24th, 2010
8:30 am

Maybe the Governor should take a look at areas that waste money on their superintendents and withdraw corresponding amounts in matching funds.

Dave from GT

May 24th, 2010
8:35 am

Cap the salary at $200K, give one – five year contract, then turn em loose! Repeat process.

The school boards need to take on more resposibiity at a lower level.

Too much executive BS going on here. It ain’t that complicated, Forrest!

frank

May 24th, 2010
8:36 am

The public school system has not progressed in the last 50 years. We still have teachers standing in front of a classroom lecturing students. The Military, Industry and a lot of Goverment agencies has gone to self paced, audio visual, etc as a more cost effective form of education-but not the public school system which is a self serving group like the post office (both dismal failures).

We do not even have a state wide schedule of subjects so that if a family moves accross county lines, the student is disrupted as the next county will surely be on a diffent subject.

Our public school system is a crime!!

Caroline Hardeman

May 24th, 2010
8:37 am

Teachers are pulic employees. They are compensated at a low salary because they are not supposed to be in this profession for the money. Why are the superintendents not considered to be public employees as well? If teachers are not in the profession for money, neither should superintendents. In the private sector CEO’s are suposed to make a profit to receive this much compensation. Where is the profit for the school systems?

DD

May 24th, 2010
8:48 am

We need to clarify excatly what we want from school administrators – both at the building level and at the district level. Most administrators aren’t trained well enough to run an organization as a CEO nor have strong enough teaching experiences to be an instructional leader. If we want to hire someone to run the organization efficiently, then we should go outside of education to hire an administrator. If they want administrators to be instructional leaders, they should demand that the candidates have, at minimum, the National Board certification in their specialities. In either case, they can hire someone else to be in charge of the other aspect, but right now most administrators aren’t good enough in either.

Monday, again

May 24th, 2010
8:49 am

Why don’t we go back to ELECTING our superintendents? They are not CEO’s. They are public servants. Give the public schools back to the communities they are serving.

AlreadySheared

May 24th, 2010
8:52 am

Yawn – the “more money than the president” straw man. Sadder yet, a companion “more money than the VICE president” straw boy?… straw bundle?.. piece of straw?

1) As previously noted, the office of vice president isn’t worth a warm bucket of [expletive deleted]

2) I’m certainly not one of them, but there are a ton of people running around Atlanta who make more than the president. Businessmen, ball players, musicians, RAP music entrepeneurs, for heaven’s sake
(please note for the record that I put music and rap into two separate categories). The market rate for superintendents is the market rate, just like for good left-handed pitching. How much the president makes has nothing to do with it.

Old Teacher

May 24th, 2010
8:52 am

DD- you got it right- they are NOT trained well enough. John- I think capped salaries are a great idea. I put this in a post earlier- but it did not get past the filters….I find it incredulous that Gwinnett’s superintendent has his contributions to retirement reimbursed. Actually, as a teacher in his county, I find it disgusting.

Understanding Atlanta

May 24th, 2010
9:07 am

This idea that public servants should not be well paid is hogwash. Superintendents in Georgia are in an interesting position in most cases. With them not being elected and having to answer to the school board, they often have their hands tied by the school board. Take DeKalb County, the school board members would get complaints from their constituents (parents upset their child hasn’t done what was needed in the classroom) about teachers not passing students that had failed. They would force the superintendent to do something about that, thus programs that make it hard if not impossible for a teacher to fail a student.

Why? Because the superintendent works for the school board and the school board works for the people. And the people get what the people want, especially in local elections. Thus the horrible test scores, lack of performance, and other issues with metro Atlanta public schools

realdawg

May 24th, 2010
9:08 am

No capping of salaries you socialists.

You are talking about a couple of administrators versus thousands of teachers. Comparing their salaries to the VP/President is very poor journalism. How about comparing to comparable school districts around the country. In Gwinnett, you have one of the top 10 largest school districts in the U.S.

Administrators ARE CEO’s and SHOULD report to the school board not the people for the very reasons we are going throught right now. Everytime the wind changes somebody wants to get out the ax. You want to really screw up our schools? Start canning the people that make them function every 4 years and see what happens. Funny how happy most were with the suburb schools systems until they had to cut some costs.

I hope the AJC takes the next steps and looks at other districts around the U.S. Saying that, administrators should be taking relative salary cuts.

Understanding Atlanta

May 24th, 2010
9:12 am

DD – You are right. I was having that discussion with a current teacher a few months ago. I believe the administration side of school systems should be run by those with expertise in that area.

Maybe the superintendent should be a figure head that looks good and can motivate faculty and staff, with a team (1 for administration, 1 for instruction, 1 for strategic planning) that gets the actual work done. A novel concept I know, but maybe worth a shot, instead of having superintendents be those with 20 years of classroom experience (which could be mediocre at best) and not know how to balance a budget, prioritize projects, or streamline operations to make money other programs.

Understanding Atlanta

May 24th, 2010
9:19 am

realdawg – I understand what you’re saying.

Question? CEO’s report to boards that are comprised of people that have in most cases done well in their field, proven themselves to be successful, and shareholders have confidence in their ability. What do we do with school boards that don’t exude that confidence? I’m a resident of DeKalb County and I DO NOT have confidence in the DCSS School Board. I beleive they are well-meaning in theory, but lack the skill to put it into practice and thus many of the issues we face. The fact they are well-meaning gets them re-elected, but the lack of good or even fair implementation of ideas steady puts us behind.

realdawg

May 24th, 2010
9:25 am

Understanding Atlanta-The reality is that schools boards are a very tough job. A good example of what to do would be to look at a school board like Fairfax in Virginia. You have very senior people that are/were educators, lawyers, accountants, long time active parents, etc. They have the experience and education to allow them to lead and properly manage the administration. When done properly the administration manages and recommends and the school board gives direction.

The harderest part is finding people like this and encouraging them to run.

realdawg

May 24th, 2010
9:26 am

This is what a school board should look like:

http://www.fcps.edu/schlbd/members.htm

James R

May 24th, 2010
9:29 am

Especially in Cobb, we need a professional to lead our school board with the vacuous members we currently have. Sanderson is worth every penny. With board members like Bartlett and Morgan who ask stupid questions that everyone already knows the answer to, just to look like they’re involved. Bartlett especially should be recalled. She’s proved she can’t be trusted. What else does she need to do to rise to the level of incompetency to warrant a recall?

Now if we could hire a competent attorney who doesn’t cost millions and who knew the difference between legal and illegal actions by the board. Ours apparently doesn’t, yet we pay an exorbitant cost for his suspect legal services. What do other school systems pay their attorneys?

Proud Black Man

May 24th, 2010
9:30 am

@ AlreadySheared

“(please note for the record that I put music and rap into two separate categories).”

You tea (insert the name that cannot be mentioned) never quit do you?

Proud Black Man

May 24th, 2010
9:41 am

@ realdawg

“This is what a school board should look like:”

All white. Is that what you are trying to say?

realdawg

May 24th, 2010
9:50 am

@ Proud Black Man – LOL, I didn’t even look at the pics. Guess that is a difference between you and me. I feel qualifications are more important than color.

John

May 24th, 2010
9:53 am

I have never been a school administrator. However, from what I see and know, they deserve every penny they get. Nobody has more pressure in a job than a superintendent or high school principal. And, in response to one statement, teacvhers in Georgia do not receive low salaries. That was the case 305 or 40 years ago but teachers today–and I am related to several of them, including my wife–are well compensated, especially when retirement and fringe benefits are taken into account. They also deserve every penny they get.

John

May 24th, 2010
9:59 am

We don’t need a un iform curriculum and a statewide list of subjects. I moved around quite a bit growing up, going to eight different school systems in four different states. I graduated with honors as the valedictorian of my high school class (and was glad I didn’t go to one of those stupid schools like the one in metro Atlanta who wiuldn’t let a student be valedictorian because he hadn’t attended there for five semesters.) I never had any problem catching up or adapting to a different curriculum or different teacher.

Lynn43

May 24th, 2010
10:07 am

The legislature had a chance this year to increase the level of competence of school boards, but they didn’t. All they cared about was the nepotism issue. They should have also include qualifications of a college degree (would have left out Handel) and no, if very little, pay. The School Board should not be your source of income and career. A person should be on the School Board (only) because they want to help produce a top school system.

Sandy Springs Guy

May 24th, 2010
10:08 am

High results should be rewarded with high pay. When the school systems stop producing so many students ill prepared to function at a high level in society, they should be paid accordingly. Most private CEO’s are rewarded through stock and bonuses after they have accomplished their goals – perhaps the super’s should be paid after all the standard tests are graded and graduation rates are tallied.

Understanding Atlanta

May 24th, 2010
10:14 am

realdawg – That’s impressive, each board member brings quite a bit to the table. The hard part is getting the right caliber of people to run.

William Casey

May 24th, 2010
10:15 am

DAVE FROM GT is right: one 5-year contract for $200,000. Times are tough! Superintendents seldom stay more than 5 years anyway unless the compensation is exorbitant.

Andrew Thomas

May 24th, 2010
10:20 am

realdawg
May 24th, 2010
9:08 am

No capping of salaries you socialists.
——————————————————-
By nature, the public school system is already a social program. It is funded with tax payer dollars and has no real income. Therefore, capping the salaries of administration would be in line with the ideology of socialism. I hope you are not an administrator at one of our schools!

Shar

May 24th, 2010
10:21 am

Public bureaucracies should be capped at a reasonable (average of like areas, or geographic proximity?) per-capita level, and should be required to lose no less a percentage than public-facing employees in times of cutbacks. APS has absolutely no reason to have such a ponderous, incompetent, expensive bureaucracy other than the fact that nepotism and favoritism are rampant and the more bodies that report to a supervisor, the more power that supervisor has. None of it has anything to do with improving Atlanta students’ education.

With the cheating that has flourished under Beverly Hall, she should be summarily fired along with her vicious subordinates, and all bonuses returned to the budget as they are performance-based and the performance was falsely reported. APS needs to be forced to lose at least a third of central office administration, starting at the top.

lori

May 24th, 2010
10:28 am

Wow. That’s crazy. I know that we need to be competitive, but a car allowance, really?? I mean, with those salaries, can’t they afford their own car!! I think It’s kind of nuts that they make that much.

realdawg

May 24th, 2010
10:39 am

@Andrew Thomas – Schools derive funding from far more than just tax dollars (grants, fees, etc). There are social apects to schools but there are plenty of other market based forces that drive school function. Public schools are not “free” as prescribed under the socialist philosphy. Parents parent pay much far and above their taxes to have their kids educated in the “public” school system. Parents also have the choice to home school or use their hard earned money or child’s accelerated talent to seek out private schools. In some cases, they can take their tax stipend as use it how the wish to seek out the best solution.

I do sense your socialist tendancies by calling them “our” schools just like they are all “our” children. My children are not yours and neither is their school.

parents just dont understand

May 24th, 2010
10:41 am

“No capping of salaries you socialists.”

“Everytime the wind changes somebody wants to get out the ax. You want to really screw up our schools? Start canning the people that make them function every 4 years and see what happens.”

The people in the classroom are what really make this engine run. Really, all a super is: public relations and to a great degree most principals. Now dont get me wrong principals have to put out a lot of fires; you would not believe the way some “educated” folks behave.

As far as the election thing the top of our government has the chance of changing every 4 years and its worked now for well over 200 years. Electing a super would give more voice to the people about the kind of direction they want. The super could then ask if everyone wants to particpate in RTT or if not be willing to pay higher taxes to help fund education in their district.

AlreadySheared

May 24th, 2010
10:47 am

@PBM,

Having enough taste to be able to tell the difference between music and prurient, narcissistic, and misogynistic filth has nothing to do with politics.

Andrew Thomas

May 24th, 2010
10:48 am

@Andrew Thomas – Schools derive funding from far more than just tax dollars (grants, fees, etc). There are social apects to schools but there are plenty of other market based forces that drive school function. Public schools are not “free” as prescribed under the socialist philosphy. Parents parent pay much far and above their taxes to have their kids educated in the “public” school system. Parents also have the choice to home school or use their hard earned money or child’s accelerated talent to seek out private schools. In some cases, they can take their tax stipend as use it how the wish to seek out the best solution.

I do sense your socialist tendancies by calling them “our” schools just like they are all “our” children. My children are not yours and neither is their school.
————————————————

Public schools are funded by tax dollars. Publicly funded entities are social programs. If you pay $0 in property tax, you can still send your child to the public school system if you live in the district. No matter where those dollars come from, they were ultimately part of some tax program. You can argue until your blue in the face, but you show you lack of understanding of our system by your posts. How would the public school system fair if $0 tax dollars were used? When you can answer that question, I’ll continue the debate. Please educate yourself. I now pray you have no part in our education system.

Kdub

May 24th, 2010
10:49 am

It is about time someone brought this out. It is a down right disgrace that he makes that kind of money (Wilbanks). He would never survive in the corporate world. Instead he is a parasite on the backs of the tax payers of Gwinnett. Shame, shame on you and the local school board for allowing this to happen.

ChristieS.

May 24th, 2010
10:49 am

@ Frank:

“The public school system has not progressed in the last 50 years. We still have teachers standing in front of a classroom lecturing students. The Military, Industry and a lot of Goverment agencies has gone to self paced, audio visual, etc as a more cost effective form of education-but not the public school system which is a self serving group like the post office (both dismal failures).”

What you have failed to take into consideration is that all of your examples are ADULT education. These methods don’t work for children who don’t ALREADY have the requisite prior knowledge, much less fully-matured cognitive reasoning. Teaching children is vastly different than teaching adults. I’ve taught adults and I’m learning how to teach children. The two require vastly different skill sets, even if the same end result of “education” is the goal.

Karen

May 24th, 2010
10:50 am

Many of you forget the thousands of students who graduate GCPS and go on to be YOUR bosses, YOUR doctors, YOUR lawyers, YOUR small business owners, CEOs of large companies. And they got into colleges, universities, etc. because of a firm foundation.

Momof2

May 24th, 2010
10:54 am

I simply cannot see what the drawbacks of electing a superintendent are – as it is, the real tough decisions are not being made; the easy ones are. There might even be some drop in cronyism. And cap the salary – this should not be an enrichment opportunity out of line with the salaries of other civil servants at the same level.

d2

May 24th, 2010
10:56 am

Well we can think the state of Georgia for this mess. They took away our right to vote for the superintendent. Oh by the way, I was talking to my neighbors who put their house up for sale and sold–I asked them where they are moving to. They are both teachers and both got a job teaching in Arizona. They said they lived here all their lives but they need to make a living and need to go somewhere where they can get support from a state who believes in education. They told me of the voters in Arizona wanting taxes to help pay for educations I wish them the best of luck. I know another teacher moving to North Carolina because he is sick of Georgia.

maidenga

May 24th, 2010
11:06 am

they make more than 6 or 7 teachers put together. This story is unreal, maybe the job should be put up for election. Once the classrooms have 40 students in them, the teachers will not have any control and the students will be the ones to suffer for it. These big shots should be ashamed that good teachers are losing their jobs so they can keep their own over-paid jobs. this is a disgrace to Georgia. shame, shame, shame!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wounded Warrior

May 24th, 2010
11:06 am

GA COUNTIES ELECT CORNORERS, WHY NOT ELECT SUPERINTENDANTS? They would have to prove their efectiveness, and term limits would also apply.

AlreadySheared

May 24th, 2010
11:07 am

Ding dang it!

I made it two thirds of the way there – I wish I had paid a little more attention to my riposte.

If I had only gone with “prurient, BANAL, and misogynistic”, I could have ended up with P.B.M.

Understanding Atlanta

May 24th, 2010
11:08 am

Maybe it’s because I’m young, but how would the dynamics work between the school board and superintendent work if they’re both elected. Would be like a Mayor and City Council – Where the Super is over daily operations and the Board over setting policy and approving the budget. If so, wouldn’t you run the risk of adding an additional layer of politics to the school system, school board vs superintendent in a blame game of who’s at fault.

Even the best CEO’s need a good board to work with

Wounded Warrior

May 24th, 2010
11:09 am

Grasscutters are making over $50k in Henry county…

d

May 24th, 2010
11:09 am

If $129,000 is enough for the state superintendent of schools, it should be more than enough for a local superintendent.

ChristieS.

May 24th, 2010
11:15 am

@d – I heard that!

Pompano

May 24th, 2010
11:19 am

We take people who wouldn’t even rise to being mediocre middle level managers in the Private sector and bestow these outrageous salaries & perks upon them.

Just another reason Private Schools outshine their Public counter-parts

TW

May 24th, 2010
11:20 am

This issue is typical the other detractors that keep our eye off the ball. Blame administrative salaries, blame failing teachers, blame the county in general – but don’t you dare point a finger at the CEO of education, Sonny Perdue.

In Sonny Perdue, the people of GA essentially elected a CEO who doesn’t like the company. And now that the company is tanking, you want to blame admin salaries?

geez…perhaps we deserve this…and the recession for being a bunch of morons…

geez…