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Clearing up some misunderstandings of the superintendency

Clearing up some misunderstandings of the superintendency

The superintendency is probably one of the least understood jobs in education.

“Learning Leadership” column, May 2011 issue of eSchool News—I became a superintendent at the age of 32. By that time I had received my doctorate from Hofstra University in education research, and I remember one of my psychology professors telling the class of would-be superintendents that we were not paranoid if we thought somebody was coming after us.

I have learned over the years that my old professor was right, and that paranoia is a very useful skill for superintendents to hone. So today, with education under attack—with salaries, pensions, and benefits coming under scrutiny, and governors proposing caps on the salaries of superintendents—we are not being paranoid; they really are after us.

The superintendency is probably one of the least understood jobs in education. Few people know what a superintendent does. My friends used to think that, because I was in education, I had off summers and all of the days when school was closed. They also thought that my hours were the same as the school day. The reality is that superintendents are on 24-7, which makes sense when you consider that they bear total responsibility for everything that happens in the school district.

The average day tends to run 12 hours, extending into evening meetings and events. Weekends consist of sporting events, plays, and other school or community-related ceremonies. I lost count of the number of times I received a call in the middle of the night, causing me to get dressed and go to the scene of a fire, a break-in, or—worst of all—the scene of a tragic accident where students or staff members were involved. And of course, there are the winter storms mornings when superintendents are up at three in the morning, analyzing data to determine if schools will be closed or not—a decision that is often criticized and applauded at the same time by different elements of the school community.

More from Dan Domenech:

Scarce resources, insufficient talent threaten to sink public education

School leaders need more help, and not red tape, to transform education

How we should improve on NCLB

I often receive phone calls from reporters wanting to know why superintendents are paid so much more than teachers. In the “Salaries and Wages Paid Professional and Support Personnel in Public Schools, 2009-2010,” published by Educational Research Service, the mean salary for a school superintendent is reported as $159,634. The mean salary for a highly paid classroom teacher (90th percentile) is reported as $94,135. That is a significant difference between the salary of an experience professional in the classroom and an equally experienced professional running the school district. However, if you break it down to a daily rate to account for the disparity in the number of days worked, at 184 days—the typical school calendar—the teacher comes out with a daily rate of $512. If we look at the superintendent who is on 24-7, but we deduct 54 days for some weekends and holidays, reducing the number of days worked to 310, the daily rate computes to $515. Thus, by breaking it down to a per diem, there is little difference between the salary of a teacher and a superintendent.

The sad reality is that both professionals are underpaid, given their degrees and years of experience. A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development found that salaries for teachers in the United States with 15 years of experience are, on average, 60 percent or below the salaries of 25- to 64-year-olds with similar higher education (OECD’s 2010 edition of “Education at a Glance,” Table D3.1).

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Comments:

  1. kevinsmith5

    May 4, 2011 at 9:07 am

    Your salary analysis would be a bit more convincig if you hadn’t somehow figured out how to use $94K as the average teacher pay (which is close to twice what a teacher with 30+ years experience and a Masters degree gets paid in my state). This makes everything else you say come under suspicion for the majority of readers who work in education and would make those not in education think teachers are paid way more than is true.

  2. kevinsmith5

    May 4, 2011 at 9:07 am

    Your salary analysis would be a bit more convincig if you hadn’t somehow figured out how to use $94K as the average teacher pay (which is close to twice what a teacher with 30+ years experience and a Masters degree gets paid in my state). This makes everything else you say come under suspicion for the majority of readers who work in education and would make those not in education think teachers are paid way more than is true.

  3. kgoddard@eminence.echalk.com

    May 4, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    I am in a small, rural district. Our average teacher salary is about $35,000 for a 9 month contract. I have a twelve month contract for $80,000 with 14 years experience and a doctorate. People stop by my house for school related issues at all hours. I get raked and praised in the paper. My kids are harrassed for being the superintendent’s kids. I meet with the Ministerial Alliance, the Chamber of Commerce, University Extension, and other local groups monthly. Day trips to the capitol and area meetings aren’t uncommon. Night meetings, board meetings, and ballgames are all the usual evening activities I attend. I attend 3 to 4 multi-night state level conferences each year away from my family. And in this small school, I am the director of every program we have from special education to federal programs. I have to know enough about each program to keep it in compliance and within budget. On top of all that, I have 7 bosses who have no formal education in “Public Education” and have the final say in hiring, firing, budget, and policy decisions. I try my best to keep them from micromanaging, but in a small community, I often have complete responsibility with little authority. In a much bigger district with a much bigger salary, with many departments handling the same paperwork I do myself, I think the pay would be great for what I still believe to be a great job. I like the challenge, but I agree that most people don’t understand what the superintendency is.

  4. kgoddard@eminence.echalk.com

    May 4, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    I am in a small, rural district. Our average teacher salary is about $35,000 for a 9 month contract. I have a twelve month contract for $80,000 with 14 years experience and a doctorate. People stop by my house for school related issues at all hours. I get raked and praised in the paper. My kids are harrassed for being the superintendent’s kids. I meet with the Ministerial Alliance, the Chamber of Commerce, University Extension, and other local groups monthly. Day trips to the capitol and area meetings aren’t uncommon. Night meetings, board meetings, and ballgames are all the usual evening activities I attend. I attend 3 to 4 multi-night state level conferences each year away from my family. And in this small school, I am the director of every program we have from special education to federal programs. I have to know enough about each program to keep it in compliance and within budget. On top of all that, I have 7 bosses who have no formal education in “Public Education” and have the final say in hiring, firing, budget, and policy decisions. I try my best to keep them from micromanaging, but in a small community, I often have complete responsibility with little authority. In a much bigger district with a much bigger salary, with many departments handling the same paperwork I do myself, I think the pay would be great for what I still believe to be a great job. I like the challenge, but I agree that most people don’t understand what the superintendency is.

  5. brown1c

    May 10, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    The highest paid teacher in my district (School District of Manatee County) makes more than $20,000 less than your “average”, Dan. Where is this magical place of which you speak where superintendents don’t make twice the salary (or more) of the highest paid teachers?

  6. brown1c

    May 10, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    The highest paid teacher in my district (School District of Manatee County) makes more than $20,000 less than your “average”, Dan. Where is this magical place of which you speak where superintendents don’t make twice the salary (or more) of the highest paid teachers?