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Local school superintendents average $130,000

Salary increases over past two years have been similar to teachers

Aug. 29, 2010

Public school districts in southeastern Wisconsin reported paying their top leaders an average salary of nearly $130,000 in the 2009-'10 school year, data released by the state Department of Public Instruction shows.

The average salary for the six-county region, which includes Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Washington and Waukesha counties, represents a 7.4% increase over superintendent salaries two years before and more than 40% more than such positions averaged a decade ago.

Teacher pay for the same school districts rose 7.6%, on average, between the 2007-'08 and 2009-'10 school years. Over the previous 10 years, however, average teacher salaries in southeastern Wisconsin school districts increased by 29%, according to the state information.

The data from the DPI is reported by school districts every fall, meaning that it might not capture salary increases given retroactively after teacher contracts are settled, which is also when many districts approve administrative compensation packages.

For that reason, the Journal Sentinel compared salaries reported in 2009-'10, the first year of negotiations for a new teacher contract, with the salaries from two years before at a similar stage in negotiations. The 10-year comparison also should eliminate some of the year-to-year fluctuations caused by the self-reporting method employed by the state.

Miles Turner, executive director for the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, pointed out that many superintendents and other administrators have taken salary freezes over the last couple of years in acknowledgment of the financial concerns facing their districts. That's even though the state's public school superintendents make less money than they would if they crossed the state's southern border into Illinois or moved to a comparable job in the private sector, he said.

"When we are talking about superintendents of public schools, we are talking about professionals who have at least 25 years in the field, doctorate degrees, work a minimum of 60 hours a week and oversee some of the best schools in the United States," Turner said. "Just once, I would like to hear someone say, 'Thanks,' rather than attacking their salaries, which are less than half of their equivalents in the private sector."

According to the latest data from the American Association of School Administrators, the average nationwide salary for school superintendents was $155,634 in 2008-'09, with superintendents in the Great Lakes region earning $137,817.

Turner also stressed that, although superintendent pay in Wisconsin generally was tied to teacher compensation under the now-defunct Qualified Economic Offer law, superintendents are not represented by unions and have less job or wage protection than teachers.

But Greenfield School Board President Bruce Bailey said that, in the current economy, the days of automatic wage increases for superintendents and other public school staff likely are over. Bailey voted against Greenfield Superintendent Conrad Farner's 4.4% salary increase last year. The raise helped increase the school leader's pay by a little more than 11% since the 2007-'08 school year. Farner has agreed to a wage freeze at $141,072 for the 2010-'11 school year.

"In this economy, I think everybody's got to tighten their belts a little bit," Bailey said. "And, $140,000 for administrators, I think it's a fair wage. . . .  If they're in this to make a lot of money, I think they're in the wrong profession."

Several factors influence the amount paid to school superintendents.

Turnover usually plays a prominent role in annual changes in pay, either because a board thinks it has to pay handsomely to attract an experienced administrator or because it can drop its compensation amount to recruit someone new to the superintendency. Benefit levels also can influence salaries.

In southeastern Wisconsin, Racine Unified Superintendent James Shaw was the top-earning superintendent, with an annual salary of $180,000 in 2009-'10. But the district's chief financial officer, David Hazen, pointed out the district was not making pension payments to the Wisconsin Retirement System on Shaw's behalf, bringing down the costs of his total compensation package.

Even though Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent William Andrekopoulos had a salary nearly $5,000 below Shaw's for the same year, Andrekopoulos' fringe benefits increased the costs of his total compensation to almost $30,000 more than what Racine spent on Shaw.

"There's a trade-off there when you put in all the averages," Hazen said.

In smaller school districts, some superintendents also have picked up extra duties as other administrative positions have been trimmed. Several smaller districts in southeastern Wisconsin that shared superintendents have recently ended those arrangements in favor of having those superintendents step into principal and instructional director posts.

Some districts also say the state data can skew superintendent compensation amounts. Even though Cedarburg Superintendent Daryl Herrick has not yet received a pay increase for the 2009-'10 school year, information from the state showed he was being paid nearly $6,000 more - the equivalent of his car allowance, which has been reported separately in previous years - according to Cedarburg School Board President Kevin Kennedy.

When Herrick eventually receives his raise, it will be based on several considerations, including compensation for district teachers, performance measures and what comparable districts pay their superintendents, Kennedy said.

"That's the great thing about administrators is we base it off performance," Kennedy said. "And the board as a whole felt he's doing a very good job."

Ben Poston of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

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