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When It Pays Not To Run For Office

By Michele McNeil — January 24, 2008 1 min read

Usually, politicians don’t run for office for the money. Elected officials are often highly accomplished people who could make much more working in the private sector. Of course, there are other perks to elected office—power, name recognition, and those warm fuzzy feelings about helping your country.

And a new policy brief by Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy confirms the same is true for elected versus appointed state schools chiefs.

The conclusion: Being elected will not make you wealthy.

Elected state education superintendents make far less than their appointed counterparts in other states. The highest-paid superintendent is Missouri’s Kent King, who is appointed by the state board of education, at $292,500. The lowest-paid? The elected state schools superintendent of Oregon, now Susan Castillo, who earns $72,000 a year.

Not much better paid is the longest-serving elected superintendent (his first year in office was 1985), Wayne G. Sanstead, of North Dakota, who makes $77,434. But as I was researching a story about state chiefs for this week’s issue, Mr. Sanstead told me that being elected has one big perk: You answer only to voters, and not to any other politician, such as the governor.

“I know chiefs who can’t call their souls their own,” said Mr. Sanstead, who said he’s leaning towards running again, though he hasn’t made up his mind yet.

But Indiana’s elected chief, Suellen Reed, said the toll of running for re-election is a big one. (Her salary is $79,400). Not only does she have her day job—overseeing the department of education and championing school reform in Indiana—but by night and weekend, she has to either campaign, or keep those ties with the voters who put her there. Regardless, she told me she’s going to run again, for her fifth term.

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