Chat Transcript: Survey of School Personnel Salaries

The "Report on Salary and Wages for Public School Personnel," conducted by the Educational Research Services, shows that while average salaries for superintendents have outpaced inflation over the past decade, teacher salaries have declined when adjusted for the cost of living. This chat discusses what the data mean for recruitment and retention of school personnel.

Survey of School Personnel Salaries

About the Guests:

  • Alicia Williams, director of survey research, Educational Research Service; and
  • Bruce Hunter, associate executive director of public policy, American Association of School Administrators.

Melissa McCabe, Education Week (Moderator):
Welcome to Education Week‘s TalkBack Live chat on the salaries of public school personnel. The Education Week/ERS Report on Salary and Wages for Public School Personnel is based on the National Survey of Salaries and Wages in Public Schools conducted annually by Educational Research Service, a nonprofit foundation that produces research on K-12 education. The salary data from this national sample of school systems span the full scope of public school employment from bus drivers to superintendents.

We’re pleased to have a couple of guests for this afternoon’s chat. Alicia Williams is director of survey research at Educational Research Service. In that role, she oversees several large-scale surveys, including the ERS National Survey of Salaries and Wages in Public Schools and the ERS National Survey of School District Budgets. Bruce Hunter is associate executive director of public policy at the American Association of School Administrators. He directs the legislative efforts of the AASA in Congress and the U.S. Department of Education. He has focused on increasing the impact of school administrators on federal legislation through greater involvement in the legislative process.

We thank you for joining us and look forward to an informative and interesting discussion. Let’s start answering your questions . . .

Question from Melissa McCabe, Education Week:
Let’s start with a description of the ERS Salary survey. Can you tell us about the survey and the methodology you used to gather the salary and wage data?

Alicia Williams:

Each fall, approximately 2,000 school districts with enrollments of 300 or more pupils are selected for participation in our salary survey. There is a two-stage selection process. First, school districts are selected on the basis of their enrollment size. Then, a secondary selection is made in order to ensure sufficient representation of districts by geographic region.

With regard to their selection by enrollment size, all of the approximately 816 school systems enrolling 10,000 or more students are automatically selected for the sample to ensure adequate representation of these few, but nontheless important group of school systems.

Next, for school systems with 2,500 to 9,999 pupils and those with 300 to 3,499 pupils, a panel sample is constructed by randomly selecting school systems from these enrollment strata using a 1-in-5 and 1-in-15 selection ratio, respectively. Next, additional districts may be selected to ensure that a sufficient representation of districts by region has been achieved.

The comprehensive survey requests that districts report salary information for 33 professional and 10 support positions. Also, to ensure that our data is comparable from district to district, we include a clear set of instructions for districts in reporting their data. For instance, we ask districts to report only base salaries (they do not benefits paid or extra pay incurred for extra duties).

Thse carefully designed processes performed to ensure the reliability and comparability of our data.

Question from Melissa McCabe, Education Week:
And Mr. Hunter, you are cited in the Education Week article about the salary survey as noting that superintendents don’t make as much as they might in the private sector. What types of private sector jobs are comparable to the superintendent position? And can we make similar comparisons for teachers?

Bruce Hunter:
Superintendents are CEO’s of their operations. Public schools do not have to make a profit so there are differences. Superintendents can also be compared to CEO’s of private non profit organizations. We did some comparisons in school districts around the country. without revealing the cities involved we found a city where the superintendent made $168,000 for overseeing a district with a budget of $370 million and a CEO of a prominate local business with a budget of $87.8 million made $243,000. this type of difference was common.

Question from Gene Godwin, Principal, Hoover High School:
Did you find any regional variation between school districts from different areas of the country? Were the trends the same across professions in education?

Alicia Williams:
Yes, there were regional differences found in salaries. The general trend showed that salaries were typically highest in the Mideast and Far West regions of the country. This was true for most of the positions. There was a good deal of variation, however, in terms of the lowest and middle-level salaries.

Question from Earl Smith, President, Center for Education Assessment:
Do you agree that educator’s poor job of supplying evidence of performance contributes to the perception of limited value and low salaries?

Bruce Hunter:
The short answer is no. I don’t agree with your premise. Schools provide information on test scores, college attendance, drop out rates(although these data have become notorious). Every fmily with children in school get grades, reports from teachers, and they know whether or not their children gon on to higher education, get into the military or find jobs they prepared for in high school. Salaries are held down by the fact that the tax payers give us the fewest dollars they can to get an education system they feel is adequate. Public schools are more like discount retailers than high end retailers. The public is only willing to pay its employees a limited amount. the major variable is discretionary income. Where personal income is high and there is a lot of discretionary income salaries are higher.

Question from Cary L. Tyler, teacher, Basha High School, Chandler Unified (Arizona):
What can teachers (and taxpayers) do about the increasing inequity between superintendents and teachers?

Bruce Hunter:
Surprisingly the difference between superintendents’ salaries and teachers’ salaries have been pretty stable for decades. the historic difference is about 2.5 times the average teacher salary. In the 1980’s that compresed to about 2 times and now it is moving back toward 2.5 times. Teachers salaries and administrator salaries both vary widely based on location.

Question from Karen Reynolds, School Secretary, Worthington Schools:
How does school support staff compensation compare to administrators’ and teachers’ salary/benefits packages and the percentage of increases?

Alicia Williams:
As I previously mentioned, our survey does not examine benefits packages. However, with regard to average salaries from districts responding to our survey. Our data (not adjusted by inflation) show from the ten-year period of 1993-94 through 2003-04, average salaries of administrators rose 36.5%. They rose by 25% for teachers. This compares to 31.3% for school-site leaders, 28.6% for auxiliar staff (i.e., counselors, librarians, school nurses), and 32.2% for other support staff (including teacher aides, custodians, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers).

The cost of living as measured by the Consumer Price Index, rose by 27.3% over this same 10-year period. Thus, support staff showed increases that exceeded the cost of living over the 10-year period.

Question from J.Ditcher, Principal, York Elementary:
Administrators either perform or “die.” In “most” instances, it is much less complicated for boards of education to replace a superintendent than it is to remove a tenured teacher. When hired, administrators know that there are specific goals that must be achieved or they risk being “replaced.” If teachers & teacher’ unions would agree to accept that same risk, perhaps teachers could be compensated for this with higher pay. Teachers are hired to “teach” ALL students. If, over a reasonable period of time (say 3 to 5 years) a teacher does not show evidence that his/her students have “adequately progressed"- learned, then they would agree to be “removed.” Ms. Williams & Mr. Hunter, do you think that teacher’ unions will agree to this?

Bruce Hunter:
I don’t think teachers unions will accept using rising test scores as the sole or even major indicator of student performance. The arguments about the validity and reliability of tests scores and the impact of non school forces on test scores make using student achievement growth as a preformance measure unlikely to be acceptable to teachers.

Question from Roberta Sanchez, teacher, Lindbergh Schweitzer Elementary:
San Diego has one of the highest cost of living. Does what teachers are getting paid across the country and states take cost of living into consideration? This to me is an important factor on the accuracy of how much teachers are really making when it comes to spending money in cities and states that have a very high cost of living. Could you coment on this factor and why this is not also considered when these reports come out on how much the average teacher is making. Furthermore, I know in our district, teachers who have more than 15 years of service do not get the type of pay raises that are being given to the newer teachers. Those of us with 20 plus years do not get the yearly raises the rest of the teachers get. With the teacher “shortage” why are the new teachers getting the raises and not the experienced teachers? Could you please comment on this as well. Thank you, Roberta Sanchez

Alicia Williams:
Our survey report does not report the differences in the cost of living for various states. However, we do show how salaries differ by region.

I agree, geographic variation in the cost of living is an important factor when considering average salaries. Our study, however, is primarily intended to show a general snapshot of average salaries across various enrollment sizes, regions and community types.

Question from Leann Logdon, Music Specialist, Browns Mill Elementary:
Are there any school districts where all the district personnel as a whole share equitably in one annual performance bonus based on overall increased test scores?

Bruce Hunter:
The bonus systems created by state legislatures that I kbnow of, such NC or CA, are directed to schools rather than school districts. None of the bonus systems have worked well over time though, because economic down turns have forced a reduction of rewards or skipping for a period.

Question from Jeanita Ives, Science Teacher, Unemployed:
Have there been any studies about the obvious discrimination that exists against the older, experienced teacher? This year I am joining the ranks of science teachers who will not be returning to the classroom. I am tired of being a one year contract teacher.

Alicia Williams:
No, we have not examined inequities in pay with regard to experience level for teachers. However, a view of our data show that the average minimum scheduled salaries for teachers (typically, the salary provided to beginning teachers) has exceeded inflation over the 10-year period by 3.3%. The minimum scheduled salary increase for teachers was 30.6%, compared with the cost of living increase of 27.3%.

Our data also show that maximum scheduled salaries for teachers (the salary level generally given to the most experienced teachers), increased by an even greater degree (35%) over the 10-year period. However, because salary schedules are not salaries actually paid, these data do not show how experienced teachers are actually being affected with regard to salaries.

Question from Cary L. Tyler, teacher, Basha High School, Chandler Unified (Arizona):
In light of increasing educational costs brought on by No Child Left Behind, and the amount of pressure on teachers to establish high standards for children, how can superintendents justify the high raises they are receiving, versus the poor adjustments teachers receive?

Bruce Hunter:
Superintendent raises are a product of willingness of the school board to pay a salary for leadership. the make up of the board and the community served are the two main variables. Teacher’s salaries involve negotiations between the board and the teachers representative, usually the NEA or AFT, involve labor negotiations which tends to under value teaching for the group while some individuals might be well thought of. The group reward for teachers seems to bring the increases down, whereas individual reward usually raises salary increases.

Question from Deanna Boyd, Principal, Eldon R-1:
How do most districts set salaries for administrators? Do most have a salary schedule for administrators or an index applied to a salary schedule? If not, how are administrators salaries determined? Do you usually find consistency in administrators salaries within the same district?

Alicia Williams:
Districts vary with regard to how salaries are set for administrators. Some districts may use state-based salary schedules, others may use formulas that are indexed off of the teacher’s salary schedule, and others may use individual negotiation of salaries for administrators. This is generally the case, for example, for superintendents.

Our study has not looked at consistency in salaries for superintendents within the same district.

Question from Sally Jones, Teacher, Fairfax, Virginia:
Can you really make any conclusions on data that is from only 4.7 % of the nations public school systems?

Alicia Williams:
Ms. Jones: That’s a very good question.

It is generally a myth that your sample needs to be significantly high to reliably reflect the characteristics of the population. What is important is that one uses scientific methods to accurately select one’s sample. In doing so, you will be able to gather a representative sample that reflects the population of interest.

In our study, we sample approximately 2,000 school districts each year for inclusion in our survey--that’s approximately 17% of the total population of school districts. However, as I mentioned in a previous response, we use reliable and stringent methods of selection to ensure sufficient representation of school districts across enrollment sizes and geographic regions.

As we note in our report, however, the survey is not weighted to estimate national statistics, such as providing “national average salaries”. However, these data provide useful benchmarks for comparison. Our survey is intended to serve only as a snapshot of salaries in a cross-section of staff positions.

Question from Janet O’Connor Assistant Principal, Carver, MA:
Teachers have come to be considered less professional than doctors, lawyers, etc. What have we done to allow this perception to grow? How can we improve the public’s awareness of educators in general?

Bruce Hunter:
We need to do a better job of telling the story about how complex teaching is and how generally well prepared teachers are. ETS did a study comparing teachers’ GRE scores to those of several other professions and teachers’ scores were either the highest or near the top no matter with whom they were compared, except for engineers on math, but then no one compares to engineers on math scores.

Question from Otho Tucker, Sr. Vice Pres., Mosaica Education and Assistant Prof. NC A&T Un.:
I teacher a class for Masters level teachers called “Teachers as Educational Leaders”. In that class, the question of comparing teacher salaries to other professional salaries always comes up. Do you have any comparative data and what adjustments were made to assure the comparisons were valid? If not can you direct me to studies that make these comparisons?

Alicia Williams:
We do not address comparisons of salaries with other professional positions outside of education. However, you can use our data and compare the results to data reported by the department of labor for other staff positions. Keep in mind, however, that there are likely to be differences in not only how salaries are computed (for example, base salary vs salary and benefits) as well as the educational and other requirements for positions studied. In short, it’s not an easy apples to apples comparison.

Question from Robin Weidemueller, Education Technology Specilaist, Gunnison, CO:
You explained how the survey was conducted...what incentive is there for these districts to respond to the survey? I believe administrators often have benefits, which teachers and other school personnel do not receive in compensation, so would it be reseaonable to assume that the difference between superintendents and teachers income is even greater than the survey suggests?

Alicia Williams:
I can’t speak for districts’ incentives, but we do not offer any special incentives for completion of our survey. It is hoped that the desire for comparable data is the only incentive that districts need in responding to the survey.

In reponse to your second question, as I previously mentioned in another response, our survey does not collect information on benefits and perks of school personnel.

Question from Pete Townsend, taxpayer:
Why do teachers make the same salary, per their union scale, if they have the same level of education and years of service, no matter if they teach second grade gym, art, or advanced chemistry at the high school level? Anywhere else in government or private industry, salaries are different depending on ones skill set/backround/degree, etc....?

Bruce Hunter:
In 1965 when I started teaching, schools had only recently gone to a single salary schedule as a huge improvement over the scale that paid more to men and high school teachers. That salary schedule provided equity as well as a basis for getting all teachers involved in seeking raises. Now it time to move on to a new better way of paying for performance. But we have to keep fairness or the AP teachers could get the raises and elementary teachers won’t based on available data and perceived value.

Question from J. Ditcher, Principal, York Elementary:
Is this salary raise discrepancy based upon “per diem” rate or yearly salary? Principals, Superintendents and other central office personnel WORK MORE DAYS in a year than teachers.

Alicia Williams:
That’s a great question.

Our survey reports both. In a previous question, I provided the percentages of increase for various groups of personnel, according to our survey results, for annual salaries.

Because the number of days worked differ for various personnel, we also include in our survey report average daily rates paid for professional staff. We have not reported this for support personnel because, for some support positions for which we collect data, they are not paid on an annual basis but, for example, on an hourly rate or other basis.

Here are the percentage increases in average daily rates for professional personnel in districts responding to our survey from 1993-94 through 2003-04:

Central-office administrators: 36.9% School-building administrators: 32.3% Classroom Teachers: 24.6% Auxiliary Professional Personnel: 27.7%

Cost of Living (measured by the CPI): 27.3%

Question from Connie Fisher, Teacher Quality Project Coordinator, VADOE:
One of our major initiatives right now is teacher recruitment and retention. How large a factor does teacher salary play in a teacher’s decision to remain in teaching?

Bruce Hunter:
I have not seen really good data on this but we looked at hard to staff schools and came to the conclusion that it could mean doubling salaries to get teachers to leave a good situation and move to a tough school. Based on that I would say salary was important. However we found a study of NC teachers who listed the things they wanted in a job situation and salary was way down the list, so I would say if you are recruiting for all schools working conditions are very important, but to get teachers to high poverty schools or rural isolated schools money makes the difference.

Question from Angela Beshears, Math Teacher, North Kansas City School District:
The description of this topic says that teacher salaries have declined when adjusted for the cost of living. I’m curious, just how much has it declined?

Alicia Williams:
When we adjust average teacher salaries to 2003 dollars, the data show that the 1993-94 average salary for teachers ($36,531) would adjust to $46,504 in 2003 dollars (This compares to the reported average salary by responding districts in 2003-04 of $45,646.) This means that the average salary decreased by $858 in real dollars over the 10-year period.

Question from Toni Callas, education reporter, Philadelphia Inquirer:
With this widening salary gap, is this a matter of men making more than women. Or, are more women becomeing superintendents and dispelling that long-time assumption?

Bruce Hunter:
Salaries for men and women superintendents are probably in part influenced by gender. I think that the type of school districts that hire women could also contribute to salary differences. We have seen the percentage of superintendents who are women more than double in the last decade, but the percentage is still small. If women are hired by rural school districts then their average salaries will be low. If women are hired by suburban school systems then their salaries will be higher. But my guess is that there is the same persistent gender bias in superintendents’ salaries that exists in all other professions.

Comment from Jay P. Goldman, editor, The School Administrator:
Isn’t it true that salaries in any field -- whether school superintendents or petroleum engineers -- are driven by the supply and demand? In the case of the superintendency, school boards must raise the financial stakes if they want to entice the few, highly qualified individuals best suited for the most challenging superintendencies to even consider their district’s CEO post. Even small, rural communities attract bareful a handful of qualified candidates for such posts. And why not consider what effective leaders in the private sector -- sometimes running operations much smaller and less complex than a school system -- make in compensation? When you consider what’s on the plate of the superintendent today, is it any wonder you don’t see more than a small handful of private-sector leaders expressing interest in running a school system -- even though many school boards express an interest in considering all comers when they begin their quest for a new superintendent.

Question from Les Schneiderman, taxpayer:
How should someone approach reducing the administration salary cost so teacher salary can increase with minimal impact to taxes?

Bruce Hunter:
because superintendent salaries make up such an infintisimal portion of budgets lowering those salaries will have no effect on teachers salaries. for example if the superintendent got a $20,000 raise and a district had 5,000 teachers the teachers would each get $4.

Question from LaKechia Cole-Dixson, Reading Coordinator, Houston ISD Special Education Services:
I understand that there is data and numerous implications relative to the increases in superintendent’s salaries compared to the rate of inflation. What, if anything, does the research show regarding salaries of district level school support staff: the people who directly assist superintendents to garner buy-in for their visions and reach more specific goals and objectives.

Alicia Williams:
There are many district-level positions that our survey covers. Please see our report on increases for these positions, specifically. However, here are a few of the 10-year increases reported for 2003-04:

Asst. Superintendent: 38.7% Dir. of Finance & Business: 37.1% Dir. of Instructional Services: 31.2% Dir. of Public Relations: 34.2% Subjec-area supervisors: 27%

Question from Jim Mordecai, Oakland School substitute teacher:
I believe the principal remarking that principals must raise scores or “die” is myth making. Where is the evidence of such a assertion?

Bruce Hunter:
We had a good article on performance pay for superintendents some time this past year--look on our web site. Performance contracts are the wave of the future. Principals everywhere are subject to movement or firing based in large part on low test scores. In the district where my kids go to school, one persistently low scoring school has had six principals in six years. No teachers have ever been subjected to this, even in this school.

Question from Robert Parker, Coordinator of Research & Evaluation, Clark County (NV) School District:
Are Superintendents’ salaries rising faster than teachers’ salaries in the 10 largest school districts?

Alicia Williams:
Unfortunately, I am unable to answer this question. ERS stopped collecting data several years ago specifically on the 50 largest school districts.

Question from Alexis Cottman, Teacher & Counselor, DEHS:
Why is it that we don’t pay student teachers a stipend? During my Student teaching I was forced to work 2 jobs in around the student teaching and it did not make for a good experience. Also as a person who came from the Business world into Education the cry from schools for those of us with real world experience does not match the salary cut off for poverty levels in AZ. How do we change this?

Bruce Hunter:
I don’t have a good answer to your question for traditional four year programs, but for five year programs it is possible to pay people for their fifth year as a practicum, and many districts around the country have tried this. Gayden Carruth, superintendent of the Park Hill school district in Kansas city, MO told me that she had a good experience with this concept.

Comment from Brian Wilson, Governor’s Advisor, Office of the Governor (Texas):
From the article: “Losing Ground: In looking at teachers’ pay, the data show that ... [i]n real dollars, then, the average teacher salary fell by $871, or 1.87 percent, during the period studied.” The Texas data contradicts the survey finding that the average teacher’s salary fell after adjusting for inflation. In Texas, there were 105,000 full-time teachers in 1999 who were still employed by Texas school districts in 2003. Their average salary increased $9,600 or 27.5% between 1999 and 2003. Of those 105,000 teachers, 99,400 were still employed in a teaching role in the 2003. The average salary of those teachers increased by $9,268 between 1999 and 2003. These numbers are not subject to the salary averaging effects of experienced teachers being replaced by new teachers. These increases indicate that Texas teachers, partially due to the efforts of Governor Perry, received salary increases between 1999 and 2003 well above the level of inflation.

Question from Kathy Rodeman, Business Manager, Corvallis School District (Oregon):
Did the survey consider anything other than salary? In our negotiations teachers traded less salary for more insurance premium coverage several times during the last decade.

Also, looking at average salaries for teachers compared to the actual salary for superintendents and other positions seems to mix many components besides pay. How does the survey address the qualifications (masters/doctorate placement on salary schedule) or the experience (number of steps/years of experience). Seems like you should look at the salary schedules for teachers instead of average salary, then you would see the real growth in wages instead of the mix.

Finally, superintendents probably have the highest turnover of central office positions. Therefore, through active recruiting, their salaries are adjusted to the marketplace more frequently.

Alicia Williams:
Our survey report does look at minimum and maximum scheduled salaries as well as daily rates of pay for 2003-04 as well as over the 10-year period. Please see our report for this data.

Although we do not address qualifications or experience of staff directly. One can use the data reported on minimum and maximum scheduled salaries to get at these areas indirectly.

Question from Les Schneiderman, taxpayer:
How should someone approach the school system about investing in teachers and down sizing administration?

Bruce Hunter:
Every process needs leadership, management and supervision. Schools can be audited by objective organizations, private and public, and get reasonable estimates of how much they need to grow or down size. The principle culprit in the size of administrations are state and federal mandates. Every mandate has to be managed and reported. As an exercise look at the size of your states school code now versus 20 years ago. If schools are in charge of health, safety, nutrition and child care then there will be a people managing all of those areas. Look at the reporting requirements in No Child Left Behind and see the volume of new data schools are directed to gather, store and report. Every new process mandated requires new oversight.

Question from James Chapman, Student, Northeast State Community College, TN:
As an education major, I wonder: 1)what your future outlook over the next ten years might be; 2)did you observe any effects of IDEA or rising special education costs influencing teacher salaries?

Bruce Hunter:
We are going to shift to a results based compensation system over the next ten to twenty years. I would bet the rent on that. I think differential pay for hard to find specialties could be a part of the new compensation system. The overall school finance system in each state will have to be more results based or school districts won’t have the funds to be results based.

Question from Jim Mordecai, Oakland School substitute teacher:
Statement salaries for Superintendents with in a district confuses me. Don’t you define Superintendents as the top person on an organizational flow chart?

Alicia Williams:
Here’s what we request for the superintendent position in our survey:

Report the administrator who is the chief executive officer of the school district. If the position is vacant or an acting superintendent is in place at the time of reporting, do not report salary information for this position.

Melissa McCabe, Education Week (Moderator):
We’ll have to end the discussion there. I’d like to thank both Alicia Williams and Bruce Hunter for taking the time to answer questions this afternoon.

You can read more about the new salary data and access further information about the ERS salary survey at:

A transcript of this session will soon be available on the Education Week website. Thanks to all for participating!

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