School Superintendents Get Bonuses, Not Raises

In the down economy, more public school systems are paying their superintendents bonuses rather than raises, a trend similar to newer merit pay schemes for teachers.

“Superintendent compensation trends in 2009-10 mirror what is happening in teacher pay, smaller increases in base salary and greater use of bonus pay for strategic purposes,” says a Texas School Boards Association release. “As districts are forced to tighten their belts, more thoughtful approaches to using scarce payroll dollars are emerging.”

According to a new association study of superintendent pay and turnover, Texas school superintendents earn hugely divergent salaries, largely owing to the fact that some districts are so small that their leaders act more as principals or even teachers — one district has less than 100 students — while large districts need CEO-types who manage thousands of employees and hundreds of millions of dollars. 

Their average salaries ranged from a low of $81,985 in the smallest districts, to $277,223 among those with 50,000 or more students, according to a recent survey by the Texas School Boards Association.

The association released only highlights of the data it collected, including a chart showing average salaries for different-sized districts. But it gives a good overview of superintendent pay and stability of leadership, one of the leading indicators of district success. With 826 of more than 1,000 school districts responding, the organization catalogued some interesting factoids on district leaders, including: 

The average superintendent had been in his or her job just four years, and been a superintendent seven years. Sixty percent had been a superintendent in just one district.

Superintendent turnover was almost exactly the same as teacher turnover, about 15 percent.

More districts, currently about 10 percent, have some type of pay-for-performance incentive, with the average bonus being about 5 percent of salary. Meanwhile, the average base salary raise, 3.7 percent, was down slightly from the year before and a quarter of superintendents got no raise at all.

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