Correction to This Article
A Jan. 20 article about rising salaries of private-school head administrators noted that Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart had repeated headmaster searches because of the withdrawal of candidates. Stone Ridge officials said that the withdrawals were connected not to salary but rather to scheduling and other issues.

Headmasters' Salaries on the Rise

By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 20, 2007

The heads of some Washington area private schools receive annual compensation packages of more than $300,000, including the use of houses and cars and other perks -- and the trend is for salaries to rise, according to school data and interviews with compensation experts.

The region's best-paid private school heads typically make more than public school superintendents, who oversee scores of schools, but less than top college presidents. The pay increase is the result of many factors, including broader professional demands on private school leaders and the general trend toward higher pay for top executives in the private sector, private school officials say.

But escalating salaries have been insufficient to stem a growing shortage of qualified and willing candidates to take the jobs at private elementary, secondary, day and boarding schools, experts say. The problem is so acute that more than one school had to conduct successive headmaster searches when leading candidates dropped out.

Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic school for girls in Montgomery County, had three head searches in five years, said sources who asked not to be identified because of confidentiality rules surrounding the searches. Officials at other private schools would not speak on the record about their process, but two said they'd had to conduct multiple searches.

"The main point is supply and demand," said Patrick Bassett, president of the National Association of Independent Schools, a nonprofit organization that represents nearly 1,200 independent schools across the country. "It's easy enough to find a history teacher. . . . It's not easy to find an experienced and successful head of school ready to jump ship."

In the past, headmasters simply had to be educational leaders. But today, in addition to being an academic leader, a school head is expected to be a top-flight fundraiser, a bond expert who can raise money for new buildings and a personnel whiz who connects with students, parents, faculty, staff and alumni.

"It's like the old Ed Sullivan shows," said Peter Calfee of Calfee Financial Advisors Inc., a consulting company in Cleveland that helps private schools find administrators. "Remember the guy with the plates spinning on the sticks? It's like that with the critical issues at a school. You can't afford to have one plate crack or drop."

There has also been a cultural shift. Until the mid-1990s, most private school heads received relatively modest salaries. But as corporate chiefs began to pull in seven- and eight-figure salaries, many began to question why so little was being paid to those charged with educating the nation's children. New hires and the heads of the most prestigious schools have been the beneficiaries.

Competing with the desire to reward qualified heads is a concern among boards of trustees about Internal Revenue Service regulations that govern executive compensation. The IRS prohibits excessive compensation or other benefits to individuals running tax-exempt organizations, including independent schools. Anything deemed excessive by the IRS is subject to a tax and other sanctions, but the IRS doesn't define excessive benefits.

The average annual base salary for private school heads across the country in 2006-07 was $167,000, according to the National Association of Independent Schools. The average salary of a public school superintendent in 2005-06 was $116,244, according to the nonprofit Educational Research Service and the publication Education Week. And some presidents of public and private colleges make at least $500,000, the Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported.

F. Robertson Hershey, head of Episcopal High School in Alexandria, a boarding school of 438 students, receives at least $425,101 in base salary, according to federal tax forms for the year ending June 2005, the latest publicly available. Expense accounts and other allowances were $24,987, and benefit contributions and deferred compensation added up to $55,320. Compensation experts said IRS forms reveal most, but not all, compensation.

Montgomery County Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, who oversees 199 schools, receives a base salary of $237,794.

Among private school heads, Hershey's earnings are not alone in exceeding the average:

· Georgetown Day School in the District paid Peter Branch $296,202, plus $75,150 in expenses for the year ending June 2005.

· Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville paid Jonathan Cannon $300,198, plus $56,734 in employee benefits for the year ending June 2005.

· Bruce Stewart of Sidwell Friends School, with campuses in Bethesda and the District, received a base salary of $220,189, plus employee benefit contributions and deferred compensation of $25,616 for the year ending June 2004, the latest figures publicly available.

John L. Townsend III, chairman of the board of trustees at Episcopal High School, said that Hershey is well compensated because he is worth it, noting that Hershey had successfully expanded the school.

The Washington region has nearly 90 independent schools -- elementary, secondary, day and boarding -- that educate more than 34,000 students and employ 7,700 people, according to the Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington.

Elite schools in the area are as difficult to get into as Harvard University, with 10 applications for every spot, officials say. As enrollment rises at top schools, so does tuition. The 2006-07 tuition at St. Albans School in the District, for example, is $26,501 for a day student, $13,000 more than a decade ago.

Some of the smaller institutions report lower demand, however, in part because of costs.

Although some have questioned the rising headmaster salaries, Bassett said it is the shrinking pool of qualified leaders that should cause concern. A 2002 survey by his organization found that as many as 80 percent of current heads were expected to change jobs or retire by 2012.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company