Should State Education Commissioners Make $1 Million a Year?

By Daarel Burnette II — January 19, 2016 2 min read
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Last week, I wrote about state education departments and the expected demands they’ll face under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Under that new law, state departments, long dismissed as thinly staffed clearinghouses, will have significant new power to shape their state’s education policies. That includes holding schools accountable for overall quality, coming up with ways to evaluate teachers, and improving student outcomes.

But it remains to be seen if those departments, many of which were hollowed out by staff and budget cuts during the recession, are up to the job.

In my research, one of the more startling statistics I came across is that some state commissioners make just half what their largest urban superintendents make, according to a study by Patrick Murphy and Ashley Jochim with the Center on Reinventing Public Education. The same disparity also holds true for lower administrative positions.

According to the study, “An educational coordinator in the Maryland State Department of Education can expect to make between $50,000 and $81,000, depending on experience, while the same position in the Baltimore City Public Schools pays between $75,000 and $120,000. The median salary of district administrators in New Jersey is approximately $120,000; the median for administrators in the state department of education is just $80,000.”

Last week, the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Patrick O’Donnell wrote a story about the Ohio state board of education debating whether it should pay whoever is hired as the state’s new superintendent $1 million a year. The state’s previous superintendent, Richard Ross, who made a little less than $200,000, recently retired, and the search is on for a new one.

O’Donnell points out that The Ohio State University football coach makes $5.86 million and gets a $250,000 bonus for winning the national championship.

“I don’t think a million dollars should be left out of this discussion,” State Rep. Andrew Brenner, a Republican, told the Plain Dealer. Brenner chairs the House education committee. “Let’s find somebody else who can come in and do some really innovative things.”

The average tenure of a state superintendent is 3.2 years, as my colleague Andrew Ujifusa wrote last year.

There’s no doubt Ohio’s next superintendent will be under tremendous pressure. Ohio has long struggled to rein in and hold accountable its charter school industry, improve its urban schools and tamp down on cheating on school report cards.

For my story, I spoke with Shaker Heights, Ohio, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, who is already organizing a task force to help the next state superintendent.

“Sometimes, they forget about what it’s like to be in the classroom,” said Hutchings of state chiefs. “They make decisions that make administrators’ jobs harder, rather than serving in a more supportive role.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.