Being an educator is one of the most difficult and rewarding experiences there is, and being an administrator would carry challenges of its own. Being a public school superintendent can be even more difficult than that, carrying the responsibilities of being the CEO of a multimillion dollar company who answers to the board and the taxpayers.
Talladega City Schools hired Dr. Donna King as superintendent last month, and the public discussion and approval of her contract has prompted some discussion of superintendent duties and responsibilities.
King’s contract, the newest in this area, pays $114,750 per year for her job as superintendent, plus an additional $12,750 per year as director of federal programs. General expenses are $2,500 per year. There is also an automobile allowance of $600 per month and professional memberships and dues at $600 per year. She accrues 12 vacation days per year and is entitled to five personal leave days.
The main differences between the area superintendents is in the base salary.
For instance, Dr. Suzanne Lacey, superintendent of Talladega County Schools, earns $135,048, which includes a 2 percent raise mandated by the state legislature last year. According to Talladega County Chief School Financial Officer Avery Embry, federal programs in the county schools are administered by someone else, so there is no supplement like King’s. She earns 15 vacation days per year and 12 days of sick leave, but uses her personal vehicle and does not have a car allowance. She is provided a cell phone by the board.
In Sylacauga, Superintendent Dr. Todd Freeman earns an annual salary of $125,000 per year, 15 annual vacation days and a similar allowance for social and professional clubs. The board also provides him with a phone, a $200 per month car allowance, a one-time payment of $6,000 to move to Sylacauga from Auburn and up to $1,500 per month until he got settled into his new home. His predecessor, Renee Riggins, earned $120,000 as superintendent, plus $12,000 for federal programs.
In Pell City, Superintendent Dr. Michael Barber’s salary was established at $129,000 per year starting in 2013, with a built-in 2 percent increase per year. The Pell City Board also provides a car and a cell phone, and is responsible for the expenses associated with each.
Barber’s contract is unique in this area for including a built-in pay raise. With the other superintendents mentioned, the language says that they are entitled to a raise whenever the state legislature decrees raises for other education administrators.
All of the contracts extend for three years, and provide for extensions. All of the language regarding extensions, termination, notice, cause and other issues are similar throughout.
According to Sally Howell, executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, there are several factors that boards may consider when drawing up a contract for a superintendent.
“It really is one of the toughest jobs in education,” she said. “I mean, they’re all tough, but this one is particularly. There’s no mathematical formula, but obviously you want to look at the size of the system, their experience and the local revenue available. You want the salary to be high enough to attract a strong pool of applicants, and if they’re good fit, you want to be able to retain a good leader. Consistency is important. Continuity is one of the keys to creating and sustaining educational achievement.”
She added, “I know in Alabama, people like to talk about football, and there’s a pretty wide range of salaries out there for football coaches. You look at their track record, the community’s expectations and the available funds.
"As much as people would like it to be different, the ability to pay is a major factor, however,” she added.
Looking only at salary can also be misleading, Howell continued. “You have to take fringe benefits and expenses into account, too. Boards can pay professional development dues, for instance.”
These sums, obviously, can add up, which is where Howell says a different perspective might be useful.
“Running a school system is a lot like running a corporation,” she said. “You have a chief executive officer, responsible for all facets of the operation. Compare that to a superintendent, based on the size of the system and the number of employees. You have a pretty good return. But of course, veteran educators know they’re not in this to get rich. But people deserve to be compensated for their time, their hours and their responsibilities. If there’s bad weather, a superintendent is going to need to be up at 3 or 4 a.m., seeing if the roads are safe, if the buses can go out. The public may not always see that. But part of the superintendent’s job is to go above and beyond.”