Superintendents say pay justified in wake of mandated disclosure
Superintendents of the De Soto and Eudora school districts agreed publication of their salaries last week in area newspapers was something that comes with their jobs.
The Kansas Legislature passed a bill last session that required school districts to release administrative salaries to their newspapers of record before Oct. 1 of each year. Newspapers aren't required to run the information, but a spate of articles followed the release date.
"It's nothing new," Eudora USD 491 Superintendent Marty Kobza said. "That information has always been available. I don't feel there's any reason to be defensive about it. You're going to be paid what the market demands."
De Soto USD 232 Superintendent Sharon Zoellner said that district, too, shared information with those who requested it.
"Our salaries have always been open to the public whenever they asked for it," she said. "I don't have a problem with that. I take issue with the fact we weren't compared to those with similar jobs."
For the record, Kobza's salary in a district with about 1,200 students is $94,000 a year. Zoellner earns $105,000 a year in a district with an enrollment of about 4,200. Superintendent salaries of larger Johnson County districts range from $166,000 for Blue Valley Superintendent David Benson to the $176,000 Shawnee Mission Superintendent Marjorie Kaplan pulls down annually.
Principal salaries indicated the same sliding scale of higher salaries in larger districts. Eudora's best-paid principal, Dale Sample of Eudora High School, earns $70,000 a year. Mill Valley Principal Joe Novak makes $89,000 annually. Gwen Poss, principal of Olathe's newly opened Northwest High School makes $102,000 a year.
The bill was politically motivated by those in the Legislature who don't support public education and wish to embarrass education advocates, Zoellner said. She predicted more unfunded requests from lawmakers with similar aims.
"We are going to get requests from legislators this next year of information to make us look bad," she said. "It is going to the point where it is going to get unpleasant to be in this business."
State Senator Kay O'Connor, who represents both De Soto and Eudora, said she supported the bill because reporters and constituents complained they had difficulty getting the information in a timely manner.
"In my mind, it didn't go far enough," the Olathe Republican said. "I think all public administrative salaries should be made public."
Last week's disclosures held no surprises for her, O'Connor said, because she has researched the issue for some time.
"Many administrative salaries have increased well above the inflation rate," she said. "Teachers are keeping up with the rate of inflation. Principals are a bit above.
"The numbers reported were low because they didn't put in the benefits. Some of the benefit packages are quite substantial."
O'Connor said she hoped people would track administrative salaries disclosures and insist more dollars make their way to classroom teachers.
"I think it's a terrible shame when we have teachers who have to buy supplies for their students," she said. "That's a terrible insult, especially when we have superintendents living in million dollar homes and driving Cadillacs."
Teachers should be paid more, Kobza said, but that had little to do with administrative salaries. Those, he said, were set by market demand, district size and merit. That last factor was unique in K-12 education, he said.
"Superintendents are the only ones where performance is reflected in their pay," he said. "My pay is based on what I do."
Superintendents were wrong to defend their salaries by comparing them to those of private sector CEOs, O'Connor said.
"I'm sorry, that doesn't compare," she said. "We should compare them to private school superintendents. Let's compare apples to apples."
Private school administrators received considerably lower salaries than the public school peers, O'Connor said. She estimated the salary of the superintendent of Wichita's Catholic schools to be around $75,000.
Rob Boyer, De Soto and Eudora's representative in the Kansas House, said the disclosure requirement was appropriate but agreed with Zoellner's assessment of its motivation.
"I think there are enemies of the public school system who frequently argue we pay our administrators too much," the Olathe Republican said. "I'm sure this was a politically motivated measure to bring that to light."
Unlike O'Connor, Boyer, a small-business owner, said it was fair to compare the jobs and salaries of superintendents to private-sector executives.
"My take is that in the private sector you can't get people to do what they do for the money they make," he said. "If you look in the private sector for someone to run a multi-million business with hundreds or thousands of employees, plus run a busing system and foodservice, you can't even come close to finding some one for that kind of money."
Zoellner cited a survey printed in the October issue of "Scholastic Administrator" as evidence she wasn't overpaid. The survey indicated her and Kobza's salaries were less than the national average of $122,000 for superintendents in districts of comparable size, Zoellner noted.
Rather than make a comparison to corporate CEOs, the survey contrasted the national average of superintendent salaries of $126,000 to CEOs of non-profit organizations ($163,000), private college presidents ($207,000) and hospital administrators ($233,000).
Those positions require skills and education levels comparable to those of school superintendents, Zoellner said.
"I could probably choose to go somewhere else or take a different position and probably double my salary," she said. "That is not a choice I made. I choose to be here."
Kobza said he chose his career because of the opportunity it provided to make a positive contribution in hiring quality teachers and introducing innovative programs.
"Those things to me are more important than the bottom line on a spreadsheet somewhere," he said. "Those things in my mind are more important than making money elsewhere."