The Highest Paid Superintendents in RI
Thursday, January 23, 2014
“That’s a hefty burden for our school districts to carry. Is any connection made by the district between student achievement and superintendent’s compensation?” said Monique Chartier, spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Taxpayers group.
At the city or town level, school superintendents are the highest paid public employees according to the data, which was released as part of the annual Municipal Salary Survey. Their income is also above the national median for a school superintendent, which is $125,096, according to the most recently available data from the School Superintendents Association, a national organization. (For a complete breakdown of how much superintendents make see below slides.)
How does Rhode Island compare?
However, when salaries are compared on the basis of school district size, the picture becomes more complicated: some local superintendents earn more than what is typical while others are in line with national trends or even lagging them.
Superintendents for school districts with 10,000 to 24,999 students make $164,376, according to the national data, which is for the 2007-2008 school year. In order to provide a fair comparison, GoLocalProv checked the 2008 figures for Rhode Island superintendents for the two local school districts that are that large: Providence and Cranston. The Providence superintendent earned more than the median, with a salary of $190,000, while the head of schools in Cranston was below it, at 141,483 that year.
Eighteen Rhode Island school districts fall into the next bracket, with student bodies ranging from 2,500 to 9,999. Nationally, a superintendent for a district that size earned $146,402. Five of the 18 Rhode Island superintendents earned more than that. The rest were below.
The greatest disparity between Rhode Island superintendents and their national peers is at the smallest school districts, with enrollments of less than 2,500. There, the national median is $108,218. But most of the full-time Rhode Island superintendents in the smaller districts surveyed by state officials were at least $10,000 above that.
“Education dollars are precious. It is not at all clear in the context of either student achievement or district size that students and taxpayers are receiving sufficient value for the dollars reflected in GoLocalProv’s listing,” Chartier said.
Another basis for comparing superintendent salaries is by region, which takes into account factors like cost of living, which might be higher in the Northeast than it might be in other areas. On that basis, Rhode Island superintendents are in line with their peers in New England, who typically earn $135,180. In Rhode Island the median was $135,165 (excluding part-time superintendents and Foster and Glocester, because of insufficient state data.)
Superintendents earn more than mayors
The heads of local school departments also earn well above what other department leaders earn in Rhode Island. For example, most police chiefs earn between $69,000 and $95,000. Only eight earn $100,000 or more. But their salaries are still lower than every single full-time superintendent, with one exception: the Providence police chief, who earned $147,653, according to the data.
A number of factors explain—and justify—the higher salaries for superintendents, according to the heads of the state associations for superintendents and school committees. For one thing, superintendents usually need an advanced degree, like a doctorate in education, to qualify for the position, according to Tim Duffy, the executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees.
They also must wear many hats. “You’re asking the superintendent to be not only the instructional leader for the district but also the business leader for the district,” Duffy said.
Superintendents also bear responsibility for the safety and welfare for every student in their district, added Tim Ryan, the executive director of the Rhode Island School Superintendents Association and himself a former superintendent in Portsmouth and North Providence. And the burden has only grown in recent years as budget cuts have thinned the ranks of assistant superintendents available to help them, Ryan said.
The job is also an enormously complex one, requiring knowledge of the numerous federal and state laws affecting public education, according to Ryan.
Yet another more factor: the need to offer attractive salaries and benefits in a competitive regional market for superintendents. “It’s very easy for superintendents to pick up and leave,” Duffy said.
A school superintendent is not just another department head, Duffy said. Often, the school department is the largest employer in a city or town. In Providence, for example, the teaching staff is roughly four to five times the size of the police force.
Superintendents are also not easily comparable to municipal managers, Ryan said. “Typically, a town manager or administrator has a number of major department heads,” he said. Those department heads function more independently than a school principal, who might be under more supervision from a superintendent, according to Ryan.
Ultimately, Ryan and Duff say the issue may not be how much superintendents are paid, but how little municipal managers earn. “I think that they’re largely underpaid,” Duffy said.
Does consolidation save money?
But Duffy disputes claims that Rhode Island has too many administrators. He provided a report from the National Center for Education Statistics showing that Rhode Island had an administrative support staff to student ratio of 1 to 269.7 for the 2009-2010 school year, the latest available. The national average was one administrative employee per 211.6 students. Seven states had higher ratios than Rhode Island.
Duffy also noted that Rhode Island has a teacher staff to student ratio of one to 12.8, lower than the national average of 15.4. Just seven states were even lower than Rhode Island. “Clearly [Rhode Island] has invested more in class room teachers than administrators. Some critics complain that we have too many administrators, but the numbers do not bear this out,” Duffy said.
Besides being unnecessary, Duffy suggests that school district consolidation also is not politically viable. He’s says the tradition of neighborhood schools in New England stirs local opposition to consolidation and regionalization efforts.
Even in Foster and Glocester, where the middle and high schools have been merged into one district, voters have rejected a plan to complete the consolidation with the elementary schools. The lesson: “Consolidation is a good idea as long as you start with the other guy,” Duffy said.
Union leader: Where’s the shared sacrifice?
One statewide labor leader does not question whether superintendents deserve the salaries they get. Instead, Michael Downey, the president of the AFSCME Council 94, says the issue is how cuts in salaries and benefits are spread throughout local budgets—particularly as many of the teacher aides, custodians, secretaries and other school staff he represents have had to pay more for benefits while their incomes have stagnated or been reduced.
“Those at the higher end of the salary structure don’t seem to be sacrificing as much as those at the lower end,” Downey said. “The shared sacrifice is just for us.”
Stephen Beale can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @bealenews
Rhode Island School Superintendent Salaries
Below are the salaries of school superintendents in Rhode Island, starting with the lowest paid. Data is for 2013 and was provided by the state Division of Municipal Finance. Where relevant, longevity pay is also listed. All school superintendents are listed except those in the independent school districts in Foster and Glocester. The combined Foster-Glocester district is included. In order to provide a more informed basis for comparing superintendents from one community to another, the annual student enrollment and total expenditures are also listed. (The data is for fiscal year 2012, the latest available from the state Department of Education.)
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