It isn't easy being an administrator in a public school district these days. Under pressure to meet the federal No Child Left Behind standards and other public policy requirements while operating under tight budget constraints, you and your colleagues also face the demands of satisfying various constituencies, including teachers, parents and the community, as well as getting along with your school boards.
You are also paid, on average, salaries lower than ones you could earn in private-sector positions. But many of you say that you enjoy other satisfactions of working in an educational environment, and even if you could make more money elsewhere, you are comfortable staying where you are, notwithstanding the challenges and frustrations of the jobs.
"Nobody goes into one of these jobs because of the money. The good thing about education is that everybody is underpaid equally. If it wasn't fun and rewarding in other ways, I wouldn't do it," says Carlos Garcia, superintendent of the San Francisco (Calif.) Unified School District.
"I have not met an administrator or teacher who is really doing this for the pay. Our reward is being able to affect the lives of kids in a positive way," adds Marrius Pettiford, dean of counseling and student services at Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School in the Wake County (N.C.) Public School System.
The latest edition of Salaries and Wages Paid Professional and Support Personnel in Public Schools, 2006-2007 by Educational Research Service (ERS), a nonprofit organization, reveals that salaries, not including bonuses and other perks, in 2006-2007 were up nearly 44 percent over what they were 10 years earlier for superintendents, nearly 45 percent for deputy/associate superintendents, 34.2 percent for instructional services directors, 26.7 percent for librarians and 23.3 percent for counselors. Technology directors have seen salaries increase on average about 12 percent from five years ago, in 2001-2002, when ERS started tracking those data. Th e survey, which has been done for the past 34 years, includes data on 23 professional and 10 support positions from 550 public school districts. You might use the data to help them put into context salary increases for their staff in a national or regional context, to assess the level of competitiveness when attracting other staff , and to review and compare their district's salary schedules for administrators and teachers relative to other school districts.
The ERS survey also shows that salaries tend to be the lowest in districts with the smallest enrollments. In general, as a school system gets larger and more complex-and the number of staff supervised grows-the salaries paid employees in the central office also tend to increase.
However, the survey states that the relationship is more complex than simply one of size and dollars. It suggests that the relative wealth of communities and the geographic region make a difference. Small districts in more wealthy communities might pay higher salaries than larger districts in less wealthy areas. Suburban districts tend to pay the highest average salaries, while rural districts pay the lowest, according to the survey. The Far West, including California and Nevada, and the Mid-East, including Delaware and New York, generally pay better than other parts of the nation.
Administrators in different job categories say the relationship between what they do and how much they are paid for it is even more complex than that, given the issues and pressures they face.
"Resources always come up near the top of the list," says Paul Houston, executive director of American Association of School Administrators. "It's about all the expectations placed upon school administrators and their inability to respond to them because of insufficient resources. Schools have increasingly been asked to respond to all kinds of societal pressures."
He cites concerns about obese children as an example. "It used to be that you served the kids lunch and that was all you had to worry about. Now it's the quality of the lunch and the types of snacks you offer. Schools have to worry about nutritional issues in ways they never did before," Houston says.
Salary issues have an impact at many levels of a public school system. As Nancy protheroe, ERS's director of special research projects points out, concerns about the number of building administrators eligible to retire in the next few years, and about who will replace them, have focused attention on both the salaries and working conditions of principals and assistant principals.
As many superintendents see it, it is often difficult to attract quality candidates for principals because of the "imbalance" between the work their jobs require, typically including evening and weekend hours, and the salaries that are paid, says Protheroe, citing the national survey of salaries and wages in public schools. The difference between the salaries of an experienced teacher-the pool to which many school district leaders look for potential principal candidates-and a relatively new principal is "fairly small," and "basically nonexistent" for assistant principals. And such little compensation tends to discourage teachers from becoming principals and assuming the often heavier workloads that come with the job.
The ERS survey reveals that the means of average salaries for superintendents range from $107,943 for those in the smallest districts to $204,766 for those in the largest. Houston says one reason superintendent salaries "have done fairly well" is that the market for qualified superintendents has tightened, "so boards have to pay higher salaries to attract and keep people."
Whatever they are paid, superintendents earn it, given the issues and pressures they face, according to AASA's Center for System Leadership. In a middecade study, The State of the American School Superintendency, it cites srising tress levels-the highest in any previous AASA study.
Much of it comes from NCLB, "inarguably, the most contentious educational issue today," according to AASA. Its multifaceted array of mandates creates "immense problems in leadership and management" for superintendents as districts reallocate funds, drop some programs and start new ones, and in general, create "new school environments" to comply with the law, AASA reports. "Th e confusion, unhappiness, and natural suspicions about 'big brother' telling the district what to do have created diffi cult morale problems for many superintendents," AASA declares.
Key Professional Issues
Teaching English Language Learners is another significant issue in many districts. In the Los Angeles Unifi ed School District, the second-largest district in the nation, there are 250,000 ELL students, enough to comprise the sixth-largest school district in the country if they were counted that way, says LAUSD Superintendent David L. Brewer III.
However, he continues, 78 percent of them are not immigrants but Americanborn-mostly Latino and African-American students who grew up speaking English in their homes, but not what Brewer calls "standard English," with proper vocabulary and grammar. "We have a tremendous problem there," says Brewer, who is planning a district conference in December "to make sure we have the right pedagogy and curriculum and instructional strategies to deal with these students. I don't see that right now in the district."
Language issues in some districts take perplexing twists. Houston cites a federal requirement that if a district contains significant populations of non-English peakers, teachers or administrators must send materials to students' homes in their native language.
In parts of the upper Midwest, he says, there are populations of Hmong, originally from China and Southeast Asia. But their written language is relatively new and although they can speak it, most cannot read it. "So the schools are going through all this effort and expense to print everything and send it home to people who can't read the language. Th is is the kind of stuff that drives superintendents crazy," Houston says.
Stresses like that notwithstanding, most superintendents believe they are paid fairly, Houston says. "There are bigger issues than compensation," he says. As a group, superintendents are satisfied with their choice of a profession and would do it over again if given the choice, according to the AASA survey.
Arrangements that school boards make to hire and pay superintendents sometimes take strange turns. According to Th e Record-Review in Bedford, N.Y., a recently favored superintendent candidate of the Katonah-Lewisboro (N.Y.) School District turned down the position because of "negativity" expressed by the community. The candidate, who was superintendent in a New Jersey district, had read accounts of "personal attacks against individuals" in Katonah-Lewisboro, and thus, didn't take the job and stayed in his old job, the newspaper reported.
In Atlanta, published reports reveal that the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education gave Superintendent Beverly L. Hall a $66,000 bonus this year on top of her salary of $260,000 for meeting the school system's annual performance goals. The board agreed to provide annual bonuses when Hall was hired in 1999, and she has collected nearly $329,000 above her annual pay since then, reports say.
But a similar arrangement did not work when the Arlington (Mass.) Public Schools hired Nate Levenson as superintendent in 2005. He had his contract written to pay him more if he met certain district goals and pay him less if he did not. "I thought that would be a strong and positive statement about my commitment to accountability," Levenson says, and the school committee that hired him took comfort in it.
However, it turned out to be "a bad idea," Levenson says, and he had it removed from his contract. "It was one of those culture clashes," he explains. "It would have sent a good message in a private sector setting, but it did not send the intended message in a public school setting. During tight budget times, when you are unable to keep all the staff that you want and pay teachers as much as you want, a performance raise for a superintendent is going to be very challenging politically. It became a lightning rod of controversy rather than a motivator." Levenson says his salary is roughly $150,000, above the mean of average salaries.
INSTRUCTIONAL AND CURRICULUM DIRECTORS
The role of a curriculum resource teacher or administrator has become more sophisticated and time demanding, says Tim Laughlin, math and science curriculum resource teacher in Whisconier Middle School in the Brookfield (Conn.) Public Schools. "We align the curriculum to state frameworks and district goals, we help teachers with their instructional strategies, and we oversee that they are following the curriculum," he explains.
According to the survey, managers of curriculum or instructional services earned a mean of average salary of $95,025 in 2006-2007. With 27 years of classroom teaching experience himself, Laughlin says his base salary is $82,000.
Much of Laughlin's work involves devising effective solutions to improve student learning outcomes. Laugh-lin says he is aware of pressure to help his school meet NCLB goals. "That's part of my job, absolutely. NCLB impacts every school, because if you fall behind its guidelines, then you become a failing school," he declares.
To ensure that doesn't happen, Laughlin says, "we made some changes in our curriculum; we raised the bar a little bit." He explains that Whisconier started a math lab last year to help students in grades 5 through 8 who were lagging in their classroom work to gain the algebra skills they need. In the morning, the lab teacher works with students who have scored below goal on the state mastery test in math. In the afternoon, math teachers send students to the lab who need extra help on classroom topics.
Laughlin says his responsibilities were to "design, run and troubleshoot" a facility that could serve as many students as possible. Last year, it served 668 of the school's 1,000 students, and subsequent improvements on test scores showed that "we had a very successful year," Laughlin reports.
It used to be that school district finance/business officers worked quietly in smokefilled back rooms, "counting beans and crunching numbers," says John D. Musso, executive director of the Association of School Business Officials International. They also were known as the "no" people who frequently told other district officials, "You can't do this, we don't have enough money," he adds.
Those days have passed in more ways than one. Anti-smoking laws have ruled out smoke- filled rooms. Business officers have moved from the back of the line to the front of district administrations, often serving on superintendents' cabinets. And instead of saying no, their response now is more likely, "We don't have the money but let's see how we can work it out," Musso adds.
Business officers work under the same stresses as other administrators but feel some of them a lot more, such as feeling the need to make instructional programs work effectively under tight budget constraints. "Business officials are always under pressure on the issue of adequate funding," he says.
That is why many of them are becoming more involved in the instructional process, working with other administrators to try to make programs work even if adequate funding is not there. "You can't really manage a budget if you don't know what's happening on the instructional side. You have to know firsthand what's going on," Musso says.
He cites staffing issues. Instead of making "arbitrary and capricious" staffing cuts in district budgets, school business officials now try to understand what cutting staff actually means in classrooms, he says.
There is a partnership between the business or financial side and the instructional side of district operations, he says. But that has a "bittersweet" element, Musso adds, because once business officers get involved on the nstructional side, they take ownership of some of it.
"They know what changes in the classroom mean in terms of student achievement, and that puts a lot more pressure on the business people," he explains.
According to the ERS survey, annual salaries for fi nance/business offi cers are roughly $92,000, up from about $66,000 ten years ago.
As with other categories of administrators, "any school business person could probably go to the corporate sector and get a lot more money," Musso says. "I don't think there's anybody who wouldn't want to make more money, and most people know that if you work for a school system you're not going to become rich."
Some school business officers are in second careers. Others stay on because "they want to make a difference; that's their passion," says Musso. "It comes down to choices and what they want to do with their lives."
With all the nation's schools connected to the Internet and with a growing need for data-driven decision making, technology directors play a vital role in district administration. "It is an incredibly important position," says Susan Patrick, president and CEO of the North American Council for Online Learning.
Most large districts have a full-time technology director, but in most small districts it is a part- ime job for someone, even a teacher, who also has other responsibilities. "Lots of districts reeither shortstaffed or not staffed at all in the position," Patrick says.
According to the ERS survey, technology directors are paid an average salary of $81,809. As with other administrative pay levels, compensation is tied closely to the district's enrollment, with mean of average salaries ranging from $58,904 in the smallest districts to $106,225 in large ones.
Whatever the level, Patrick suggests it might not be enough to support districts' increasingly complex technology requirements. "People who are well-skilled in technology have lots of job opportunities open to them, both inside and outside education,"Patrick says. "It is a very competitive field. School system leaders need to evaluate whether they are paying their technology directors enough, and make sure they have adequate full-time staffing to meet their needs."
As full-time supervisor of instructional technology and Webmaster in the Goochland County (Va.) Public Schools, with 2,300 students, John G. Hendron is the kind of administrator Patrick is talking about. He has spearheaded technological innovations in his small district, including one of the fi rst K12/schoolbased podcasts in the United States. All teachers have laptops and are required to maintain a blog.
"Our blogging system makes it easy to publish podcasts," says Hendron, a former high school teacher. "We try to be on the cutting edge with technology, and we are traditionally looked at as a trailblazer. It's fun to be in that position. Also, our business here is to educate students, which is a lot of fun for me."
"I enjoy working with teachers and opening doors for them, particularly the ones who are really excited about technology," he says. "You know you're making a difference in people's lives. That's the real draw here."
That's why it's comfortable to remain where he is "for right now," Hendron continues. "I get discouraged when teachers tell me I can make so much more money doing this in the business world. It's a lot of fun to learn, and in many corporate environments there's not always an opportunity to learn."
It used to be that counselors "just sort of sat in their offices and waited for kids to come in and talk to them," says Marrius Pettiford in Wake County, N.C. That's still part of their job, but now there is much more, says Pettiford, who also is southern regional vice president of the American School Counselor Association.
The ERS survey shows that the mean of average salaries of counselors in 2006-2007 was $55,930. Pettiford, who has been a school counselor for 16 years, says his salary is "in the $50s range."
School counseling now is data driven, Pettiford explains. With other administrators and teachers, counselors constantly review data on students "to see where we can have the most impact," which means looking at the personal and social issues kids are bringing to school, he says. Then counselors develop ways to address those issues through anger management, suicide intervention and other programs, he says.
When students are having difficulties transitioning from middle school to high school and are failing several courses, concerned teachers and staff alert Pettiford, and he works with them to smooth the transition. Among other steps, Pettiford explains, "we ask teachers to let us know as soon as they see kids having academic issues. Then we bring in those kids and their parents and sit down and talk with them about the differences between middle school and high school and the importance of study, time management, all of that."
As in most public high schools, his job as counselor includes working with students on postsecondary opportunities, including applying for college.
He says respect for a school counselor's job has improved during his time in the field, "because people are getting a better sense of what counseling is supposed to be about." Still, Pettiford acknowledges, "there have been trends" to cut counseling positions in states or districts that do not require school counseling positions in the first place.
With a mean of average salary of $54,881 in 2006-2007, according to the ERS survey, library/media specialists are among the lowest-paid of what ERS calls "auxiliary professional personnel," just below counselors but above school nurses. They also are among the first to be cut when districts have to save money.
"It is a position that is not seen as absolutely necessary even though we fill a lot of roles that can't easily be picked up by someone else," says Suellyn Stotts, media specialist at Grizzell Middle School in the Dublin (Ohio) City Schools and past president of the Ohio Educational Library Media Association. In 39 school districts in Ohio, there are no librarians. "I know we're not the only state that is having major problems," says Stotts.
One reason, she believes, is that children learn how to use computers and the Internet at an early age, so "the general public thinks they can do on their own" what librarians used to help them do to find information. "Actually, they get on the Internet and flounder around. They can't find the information they need. Teachers all over the country say the same thing," Stotts asserts.
According to the New Literacies Research Team at the University of Connecticut, it is key that students know how to navigate the Internet properly and efficiently and make sense of the information they find. And they should be learning about such information literacy, or the new literacies, in school, researchers say.
"I think library/media specialists are more important than they have ever been," Stotts says. With 23 years of experience in her specialty, Stotts is paid about $70,000. she says she works 10 hours a day at school, then spends nights at home reading books from the library and exploring the Internet so she can better assist students and teachers. "I am trying to do everything I can to make myself indispensable so they don't eliminate me," she says.
Her workload notwithstanding, Stotts has fun. With every class, a new group of kids, problems and questions come. "The library is a bustling place, and I find that absolutely exhilarating," she declares.
Amid the issues and stresses that impact their jobs-even beyond NCLB, parental pressures and larger numbers of students learning English-administrators say that trends to cut people and programs because of budgetary pressures underscore their concerns.
In the end, the job of educating students to proficiency, which is expected by the federal government to be in 2014, and beyond gets harder. As Garcia puts it, "The biggest issue is that you don't have the resources to do the job as effectively as you should be doing it."
MANY DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENTS AND OTHER ADMINISTRATORS HAVE LITTLE IF ANY direct experience in education. Up to 20 percent of superintendents in large cities at any one time are "nontraditional," according to Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools.
He cites superintendents or chancellors in New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Denver and Baltimore, among other big cities.
There is a misperception, Casserly says, that nontraditional superintendents "take enormous cuts from their high-falutin' salaries in the private sector." Actually, he says, while some come from the corporate world, most do not. Instead, they have backgrounds in nonprofit organizations, municipal governments, the military, or other sectors, often as lawyers.
He points to Alan Bersin, a former superintendent of the San Diego (Calif.) Unified School district, who was U.S. attorney in San Diego, and Joel Klein, chancellor of the New York City schools, who was chairman and CEO of Bertelsmann, Inc., and an assistant U.S. attorney general before that.
David L. Brewer III, hired last year as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, served 35 years in the U.S. Navy. "I could have remained retired and enjoyed a very relaxed life," says Brewer, a retired vice admiral. Then an executive search firm seeking candidates for the position called him. Although he had no public education experience, Brewer had been responsible in the Navy for educating and training more than 300,000 sailors every year, mostly high school graduates, "so I had a bird's-eye view of what was going on in America's high schools," he says. He was also familiar with educational issues, given that family members had been educators.
His Navy leadership and management experience help him in LAUSD. "I'm used to dealing with large and tight budgets," he says. "Like any job, it takes about a year to adjust to it and then you expect to start seeing results. You will start seeing results here next year."
Brewer is paid $300,000 annually. He also receives a $3,000 monthly housing allowance and has a $45,000 annual expense account.
FROM BUSINESS TO PUBLIC EDUCATION
Nate Levenson, who left his family business to become superintendent of the Arlington (Mass.) Public Schools, was not entirely unfamiliar with school district operations. He served six years on the board of education in Boxford, Mass., and also was a part-time (two days a week) assistant superintendent in the Harvard (Mass.) Public Schools. Levenson says he brought valuable experience from the private sector that helps him deal with the stresses of accountability issues like those of NCLB. "The private sector is a high-accountability world. I take those kinds of issues in stride," he says.
Still, he faced a "steep learning curve." It was a matter of "finding the right balance" between how quickly he could implement changes in the district and how important it was to maintain the status quo so as not to upset his constituents. "It was not as easy as it might be for somebody who has spent their entire career in public education," he says.