A Hidden Premium In School Chief Pay

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The annual salary paid to Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of the Montgomery County schools, has increased just $4,892 since he took the job eight years ago.

Factor in his deferred compensation, however, and Weast's annual pay has risen by more than half. His compensation package now approaches half a million dollars.

Salary tells only part of the story. Total compensation to superintendents in the D.C. area, including benefits and perks, will average $350,078 this fiscal year. That is well beyond the $231,470 they will receive on average in salary, according to figures supplied by 13 school systems and state retirement officers.

Superintendent contracts in the region now routinely require school boards to direct tens of thousands of dollars each year into retirement accounts. Supplemental life and health insurance are commonly included, too. Some boards award superintendents several weeks of leave each year, much of which can be cashed in if unused. Superintendents in Fairfax County and Montgomery receive local pensions on top of their state benefits.

The perks, far more extensive than they were a decade or two ago, reflect a dilemma faced by school boards competing for superintendents, said John DeFlaminis, executive director of the Center for Educational Leadership at the University of Pennsylvania. School systems are wanting "to get the best person they can get, but not necessarily wanting to pay that in a publishable salary," he said. "So they'll try to hide a portion of it."

Pay and perks for superintendents have increased dramatically across the nation in recent years, driven by simple supply and demand. Experts say there is a dwindling pool of well-qualified superintendent candidates willing to endure the position's hours and pressure.

"Many people see it as a job you just wouldn't want to have," said Edgar B. Hatrick, superintendent of the Loudoun County schools. "We like to get our spouses together to convince them that we're not the only ones putting in 70 or 80 hours a week."

Hatrick was hired in 1991 at a salary of $87,000. His pay today is $226,564, and it's considered a bargain.

James E. Richmond, the superintendent in Charles County, oversees half the number of students that Hatrick does but receives $18,436 more. His salary has climbed from $100,000 to $245,000 in 10 years.

"The people who think I'm paid too much think I'm paid too much at $80,000," Richmond said. "It doesn't matter what I get."

Eleven of the 13 school administrators in the region will receive more than $200,000 in salary this year, more than any superintendent in the country received a decade ago.

Almost no one in education believes that superintendents are overpaid. They receive less than many private-school headmasters in the region, less than most local university presidents, far less than managers in the private sector with similar budgets and staffs. They tend to be the highest-paid public officials in their cities and counties, but they also command the largest operations.

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