School Chiefs Get Average of $351,730 After Perks

Prince William School Superintendent Steven L. Walts, with Principal Pat Hayden of Westridge Elementary, is paid $72,425 in deferred compensation.
Prince William School Superintendent Steven L. Walts, with Principal Pat Hayden of Westridge Elementary, is paid $72,425 in deferred compensation. (By Margaret Thomas -- The Washington Post)
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By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2008

School superintendents in the Washington area will collect salaries ranging from $157,200 to $279,340 in the fiscal year that ends June 30. Factor in benefits and perks, however, and the average annual compensation package swells to $351,730.

Compensation for the school chiefs goes well beyond the salaries reported to the public, according to a review of contracts for 12 superintendents in the District and its suburbs. Contracts routinely allow superintendents to collect tens of thousands in deferred compensation and to cash in weeks of unused leave annually. Superintendents enjoy supplemental insurance policies and retirement plans on top of the benefits available to all public school administrators.

In Montgomery County, the $242,686 salary paid this year to School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast represents not quite half of a total compensation package valued at $489,763. John E. Deasy in Prince George's County will receive $424,080 in total compensation, with less than two-thirds coming from salary, according to figures provided by the school system.

The compensation packages help school boards attract quality educators to a job that is becoming increasingly hard to fill. Superintendent salaries nationwide have increased by almost half in the past decade, in an ongoing bidding war for talented candidates. Superintendent tenures are declining, and the lengths of superintendent searches are growing, as top educators leave the field for jobs with less stress and better pay, according to the American Association of School Administrators.

There are "not enough qualified superintendents," said James E. Richmond, superintendent of Charles County schools, adding that there are "plenty of openings all over the country."

Superintendent contracts are structured with layers of benefits and perks, allowing school systems to minimize taxpayer outcry.

Information about superintendent contracts was first reported in The Washington Post on Dec. 25. The above chart presents details of the compensation packages, including salary, cost-of-living adjustments and bonuses; deferred compensation; health, life and disability insurance; pension contributions; compensation for unused vacation time and for job-related expenses; a car and, in the case of the Prince George's and D.C. superintendents, someone to drive it.

The figures were supplied by school systems and represent actual or projected earnings.

One superintendent included in the Dec. 25 analysis, Rebecca L. Perry of Alexandria, left the job this month. Before her departure, she was drawing an annual salary of $226,243 as leader of the city's 10,570-student system. In the 2006-07 school year, she received total compensation of $285,765.

What the numbers show:

  • Jack D. Dale of Fairfax County receives the top salary in the region, $279,340. Michelle A. Rhee in the District ranks second at $275,000. The average salary in the region, $231,905, is more than any superintendent in the nation made a decade ago.
  • Weast, of Montgomery, gets the largest total compensation package, followed by Deasy of Prince George's. Michael J. Martirano of St. Mary's County collects the least in total compensation, $244,339.
  • The largest perk is deferred compensation, which averages about $43,930 among the superintendents, excluding Rhee, who does not receive it. Weast receives the most, $151,698. Steven L. Walts of Prince William County is second, with $72,425. Deferred compensation is money paid into retirement accounts (other than pensions) as part of a superintendent's contract.
  • Five superintendents will collect an average $21,172 this year in compensation for unused leave. Local superintendents get as many as 30 days' annual vacation; in many contracts, leftover days may be converted to cash.

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