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AASA’s Latest Survey Finds Superintendents’ Pay Varying by District Size

The median base salary for superintendents ranged from $96,750/$94,000 (male/female) for the smallest districts to $260,000/$259,892 (male/female) for the districts with the largest enrollment, according to the newly released 2017-18 AASA Superintendent Salary & Benefits Study.

The study, the sixth in a series conducted by AASA, showed that all professional positions in the school district, from superintendent to teacher, received salary increases relative to district enrollment size as well as slight increases over previous years.

The 2017-18 survey tracked the demographics, salary, benefits, and other elements of the employment contracts of school superintendents throughout the country. The latest study is based on 1,172 responses of association members (approximately a 14 percent response rate).

The following interview was conducted with the study’s chief researcher, Robert S. McCord, just prior to its release at the AASA national conference in Nashville.

Q: In what significant ways does the latest AASA study show the typical school superintendent is changing over the past five years?

McCord: While male superintendents continue to demonstrate a somewhat greater longevity in their present position than their female counterparts, the gap appears to continue to decrease particularly in the 1-5 and 6-10 year spans.

Q: What does the study show are the major components of superintendents’ compensation today?

McCord: The issue of post-retirement insurance coverage is an important matter for district leaders. In the 2012-13 study, 17.6 percent of the respondents reported having post-retirement health coverage in their employment agreement. This has risen significantly over the years to nearly 28 percent this year.

Q: Does the study suggest that more effective negotiations can lead to better contracts for superintendents?

McCord: Slightly more than half of boards used legal counsel in the development and/or negotiation of contracts. While lower than last year’s findings, this shows an increase from the first iteration of this study. While half of boards use legal counsel to assist in negotiating the superintendent’s employment agreement, only one in four superintendents seeks legal assistance concerning the negotiations of their employment agreement. The disparity is best described as striking.

Equally interesting is the fact that state-imposed salary caps impact fewer than one in 20 superintendents and are less prevalent than previously reported.

In an expanded line of questioning, baseline data has been established on retirement caps, vesting and defined benefit v. contribution systems.

Q: What’s the most unique contract provisions turned up by AASA’s survey?

McCord: As mentioned in the previous findings, a metric of growing importance in the private sector is the ratio of the entry level worker compensation with the base salary (without incentives) of the CEO. Accordingly, the median entry-level salary of teachers is compared with the median salary of the superintendents arrayed by district size. The data confirms that as the district enrollment increases so does the ratio. In addition, the ratio has appeared to generally widen over the past four survey periods regardless of the district enrollment. In each case, the increase is best described as small.

Q: A commonly held assumption is that superintendents retire in one state and assume a similar position in another state with collecting retirement from their previous state and the salary in the new position (a/k/a “double dipping”). To what extent did the survey document this occurring?

McCord: Fewer than 1 in 10 superintendents indicated that they have been rehired as a superintendent after retiring from that state's or another state's retirement system. One in 20 superintendents indicated they are drawing retirement from one state while serving as a superintendent in another state.

Q: Are there any changes in the area of supplemental benefits that the survey studied?

McCord: No significant changes occurred in the supplemental benefits contained in agreements with the exception of a slight increase in the frequency of guaranteed vesting, paid physical exams, provision for outside teaching and consulting.

(Jay P. Goldman is editor of AASA’s Conference Daily Online.)

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