Teaching Profession

Bigger District Size Gives Superintendents Earnings Edge

By Christopher B. Swanson — July 25, 2006 3 min read
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District size has a more pronounced effect on the salaries of superintendents than for any other staff category, with chiefs in larger districts posting far higher earnings on average than their colleagues in smaller ones, according to a recent survey of more than 600 school districts conducted by Educational Research Service.

Superintendents of systems enrolling at least 25,000 students bank average annual salaries of around $185,000, nearly 80 percent higher than their counterparts in the smallest districts surveyed, which had fewer than 2,500 students.

Similar but less dramatic patterns were also found for school administrators. High school principals earn about 27 percent more in the largest vs. the smallest districts surveyed, with narrower gaps found among middle and elementary school leaders.

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The relationship between district size and the salaries for more senior administrators weakens among lower-paid education professionals, however. On average, assistant principals, teachers, counselors, and librarians earn the highest salaries in midsize districts, those serving between 2,500 and 25,000 students.

The nonprofit, Alexandria, Va.-based ERS, which has conducted the salary survey for more than 30 years, collected nationally representative data on the salaries and wages of professional and support positions in precollegiate education for the 2005-06 school year. Findings for the year just ended were in line with previous ERS salary-survey results. (“ERS Releases Nationally Representative K-12 Salary Data,” April 13, 2005.)

Personnel costs make up a major portion of the expenses for most school systems. Accordingly, districts with the highest overall expenditure levels also tend to pay the highest salaries.

Superintendents in districts where annual per-pupil spending exceeds $9,000 earn salaries about $16,000 more than leaders in districts spending less than $6,000 per student, a difference of about 15 percent.

Even more striking patterns emerge for other staff categories, with salary differentials of 30 percent or more seen for principals and teachers in the highest- vs. the lowest-spending districts.

Location Matters

The geographic location of a district also influences the earnings of education professionals. New England and the Mideast region typically pay the highest salaries for superintendents, high school principals, and teachers. The Southwest and the Rocky Mountain regions rank at the bottom of the nation in those categories.

About This Project

The data in this story and the accompanying table and chart are excerpted from or based on the publication “Salaries and Wages Paid Professional and Support Personnel in Public Schools, 2005-06,” an annual study conducted by Educational Research Service, an Alexandria, Va.-based nonprofit organization that conducts research on K-12 education. This is the third year that Education Week and ERS have worked as partners to publish findings from the annual salary report.

The research service was founded in 1973 by seven national school management associations: the American Association of School Administrators, the American Association of School Personnel Administrators, the Association of School Business Officials International, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the National School Public Relations Association.

ERS uses a sample of school systems from across the nation, divided into four groups by size of enrollment. This year’s survey provides data from the 2005-06 school year, collected in the fall of 2005 from 622 public school systems. Districts with fewer than 300 students were not surveyed. The data were statistically weighted by district enrollment group and state in order to generate nationally representative estimates of salaries for all public school districts enrolling 300 or more students.

Additional information about ERS and its reports can be found online at: www.ers.org.

Regional disparities can reach extreme levels, with teachers in the Mideast—including New Jersey, New York, Maryland, and Pennsylvania—earning almost 50 percent more on average than those in the Southwest, the difference between about $57,000 and $38,000, respectively.

While superintendents and some other district managerial professionals earn more in urban districts, suburban school systems boast the highest salaries for principals, assistant principals, teachers, counselors, librarians, and school nurses.

Data from the ERS survey also provide insights into the relationship between the backgrounds of school district leaders and their earnings.

Among superintendents, for example, women out-earn men by more than $9,000, a margin of about 8 percent. District leaders from black and Hispanic racial and ethnic backgrounds earn average salaries between 21 percent and 25 percent higher than their white counterparts. Pay is highest for black and Hispanic women, with average annual salaries topping $155,000.

The Editorial Projects in Education Research Center used data from the ERS survey to calculate changes in salaries between the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years. Among the 22 professional positions tracked, seven posted gains, 14 registered declines, and earnings held steady in one.

For all but four of these categories, 2005-06 earnings had changed by less than 2 percent compared with 2004-05 levels.

Research Associates Elizabeth Klemick and Hajime Mitani contributed to this report.
A version of this article appeared in the July 26, 2006 edition of Education Week as Bigger District Size Gives Superintendents Earnings Edge Annual survey of K-12 salaries, wages also


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