The Educational Research Service has collected nationally representative data on the salaries and wages of 23 professional and 10 support positions in precollegiate education for the current school year.
The Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit organization has been collecting salary data for more than 30 years through its annual survey, but it just started to weight the data to represent national figures this year.
The data for 2004-05 show significant variations in pay across districts of different sizes, locations, and amounts of per-pupil spending. The survey provides interesting findings on superintendents’ salaries based on race, gender, and the number of years they have been in their current positions.
A clear relationship between the size of a school district and the salaries its employees earn emerges from the data, but that link holds only for higher-paid jobs, such as superintendent, deputy superintendent, assistant superintendent, principal, and district-level director.
Salaries for superintendents who are leading districts with 25,000 or more students are about 80 percent higher than those for superintendents in districts with fewer than 2,500 students. High school principals in the largest districts make 23 percent more than their peers in smaller districts.
But no such relationship appears for lower-paying positions, such as assistant principal, teacher, counselor, librarian, or nurse. In fact, the average teacher or assistant principal in a district with an enrollment of between 2,500 and 25,000 students is actually paid more than those in districts with 25,000 or more students, according to the ERS data.
The geographic location of a school district also plays a role in pay variations across the field. Salaries are far higher in the Mideast and Far West than in the Plains and Southwest, the survey shows. In addition, education personnel working in rural communities are paid much less than their counterparts in urban and suburban school districts.
For example, teachers in rural districts are paid 27 percent less than their suburban counterparts, and 20 percent less than those in large urban districts.
Data provided by ERS on superintendents’ salaries also shines a light on pay differences based on the background of school district leaders. Superintendents get a large boost in pay when they stay in the same district for more than seven years, the data suggest.
Race, Gender Differences
Also, male superintendents make almost $3,000 more per year than their female counterparts. Minority female superintendents earn the most of all superintendents, however, making almost $20,000 more a year than their white female counterparts, and almost $15,000 more than both white and minority male superintendents.
Since ERS has weighted its data only for the 2004-05 school year, unweighted data must be used to analyze trends over time. According to the districts surveyed, salaries of superintendents, high school principals, and teachers fell this school year when adjusted for inflation.
Superintendents’ pay dropped just a fraction of a percent, but high school principals and teachers each saw about a 2 percent drop in real dollars.
Teachers are also getting the short end of the stick when it comes to salary increases over the past decade. Between the 1994-95 and 2004-05 school years, teachers’ salaries have dropped 3.4 percent when adjusted for inflation, while high school principals and superintendents have seen gains over that period of 2.4 percent and 12 percent, respectively, according to the research service.
ERS researchers speculate that some of the decline in teacher salaries is a result of new teachers entering the teaching force and retirements from the high end.
Also, the gap between the salaries of teachers and those of education professionals in higher-paid positions—principals and superintendents—has steadily widened over the past decade. (“Schools Chiefs Lead the Way in Pay Trends,” June 23, 2004.)