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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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School superintendent salaries among state workers’ highest

As the start of school draws near, 34 public school districts in Washington will be led by new superintendents, including the state’s three largest districts: Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma.

Most of those new hires will draw bigger paychecks than their predecessors.

Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Shelley Redinger’s contract calls for her to receive total compensation of $240,000, about $17,000 more than her predecessor, Nancy Stowell. Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda is contracted for $26,000 more than the previous superintendent, and the Highline, Bellevue, Puyallup and Olympia school districts also agreed to pay their new leaders more, according to district contracts and news reports.

Tacoma Public Schools is one of the exceptions; an interim superintendent was appointed to the position for two years. She will receive about $15,000 less than the previous superintendent.

The higher compensation contracts come at a time when the state is cutting pay for teachers, administrators and other in-school workers.

And the result is that school district superintendents are among the state’s highest-paid employees.

For example, 116 of the state’s 260 public school superintendents make more than the Washington State Patrol chief, according to 2011-’12 state salary databases. Eighty-nine superintendents have total compensation larger than the state attorney general, and all but a handful make more than the state schools superintendent. The 56 highest-paid superintendents make more than anyone at the governor’s office except the governor, who, while drawing a salary of $164,391, receives a raft of other valuable benefits.

Thirty-four K-12 superintendents drew total compensation of $200,000 or more in the 2011-’12 school year. The only state employees who received more during that time were University of Washington and Washington State University football and basketball coaches, as well as a few professors and deans at those public universities. But those employees’ pay packages often are privately supplemented. A small number of college and university presidents make more than $200,000 a year.

Nevertheless, state officials and superintendent search firms say increasingly complex state and federal demands of school district leaders, coupled with a desire by school boards to attract the best possible candidates, are driving the upward trend in superintendent pay.

“If you look across the country, those salaries are competitive with other states and larger school districts,” said Paul Rosier, executive director of the Washington Association of School Administrators. “These jobs are competitive jobs, and offers have to be somewhere close in the market to attract decent people.”

But Liv Finne, director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center, said, “Paying people based on what the Joneses down the street are being paid … I just think that’s the wrong measure. They are applying a corporate standard to the public sector which really doesn’t apply.” The policy center is a conservative-leaning think tank that has been critical of highly paid administrators in education.

Finne added, “I don’t mind people getting high pay if they are high performing. I’m not against high pay per se. But there seems to be no connection between a district’s performance and a superintendent’s pay.”

While school boards often cite pay in comparable districts when setting compensation, some Washington superintendents are making about the same as their peers in much larger districts.

For example, Seattle’s new superintendent, overseeing a district of nearly 48,000 students, will draw total compensation of $300,400 for 2012-’13. That’s about the same as the superintendent of the Houston school district, which has more than 204,000 students, Texas data shows.

On the flip side, Spokane Public Schools is the second-largest school district in Washington, but the superintendent is the 13th-highest paid in the state.

The national average compensation for K-12 superintendents is about $161,000, according to the Education Research Survey.

Washington has 295 school districts and 260 superintendent positions; 232 of them make more than $100,000 annually, according to the state database. There are 80 Washington school districts that have more than 2,000 students.

Randy Dorn, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, said district leaders’ salaries are a “local school board decision. I have no control over it.” But it affects his agency, he said, in that the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is “getting to the point where we can’t compete for employees with ESDs (educational service districts) and school districts because they pay more.”

When Redinger’s contract was up for approval by Spokane’s school board at a public meeting in April, no one voiced opposition.

At the time, the Washington Policy Center said the pay was OK as long as the superintendent did more than manage the status quo.

Rosier, of the Washington Association of School Administrators, noted that “a school district like Spokane is a big operation, it’s a big business.” Plus “the district is usually the largest employer in the city, or close.”

Recruiters who search across the country for superintendents have found the pool of candidates is smaller than it used to be, and that may contribute to the higher pay contracts.

“A lot of people have retired, a lot of people are new, so there’s a lot less movement,” said Steve Humphrey, a recruiter for Illinois-based Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, the recruiting firm used by Spokane Public Schools.

He added, “The issues have gotten a lot more complicated: laying off teachers, evaluations and accountability. If you aren’t competitive (in pay), you aren’t going to draw the right people.”

Washington State Patrol chief$139,428
State attorney general$151,178
Spokane Fire Department chief$194,000
Tacoma superintendent$225,000
Spokane superintendent$240,000
Spo. County medical examiner$241,920
Seattle superintendent$300,400
U. of Washington football coach$2,529,168
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