Vail Daily column: What I make and how it compares
I’m sometimes asked about my compensation level as a public school superintendent. As this comes up occasionally and in an effort to be abundantly transparent to the community, I thought it might be helpful to openly discuss my pay and to put it into context.
To be up front and clear, I currently make $195,500 as the superintendent for Eagle County Schools. Based entirely on my performance, that amount can be adjusted each year by the Board of Education following my annual evaluation. I can also receive an annual bonus of up to 4 percent of my base salary, determined entirely by student outcomes.
My pay level can also go in reverse. If our staff pay levels are cut, my salary is cut by the same percentage. As we look at the budget for next year, the signs out of the Legislature are that we are looking at a tough school funding year. As such, we are considering pay freezes for our employees. If that happens, my pay will freeze as well.
Eagle County Schools enrolls just fewer than 7,000 students, making our district the 26th largest in the state, out of 178 districts. By enrollment, we are the second largest district outside of the Front Range, behind Mesa County (Grand Junction).
Size matters a great deal when it comes to superintendent compensation levels. While no national database of school superintendent pay exists, a study by the American Association of School Administrators reports the average superintendent in the country making a little more than $140,000 for districts of all sizes. According to the same study, the median salary for districts enrolling between 2,500 and 9,999 students is around $156,000, with the highest reported national salary for districts in that range coming in at $290,000. The top reported superintendent salary (for districts of all sizes) was $322,171.
Similar patterns exist here in Colorado, based on a recent survey of 96 superintendents conducted by the Colorado Association of School Executives. For districts about our size (from 5,001 to 9,000 students) the average superintendent salary was $170,126. According to that same study, the largest reported salary for all districts was $253,541. The highest salary in the state I am aware of is $273,715.
Comparing superintendent pay to other CEO-level work is also instructive. Eagle County Schools is an organization with an annual budget approaching $100 million and has more than 1,000 full- and part-time employees. According to a 2014 study by Chief Executive Magazine, a CEO in a company about the same size as Eagle County Schools makes a little more than $378,000 per year.
We can also look to private schools as a benchmark. Although private schools typically are much smaller than public school systems, their leaders do quite well in terms of pay. One recent study by private school expert Robert Kennedy sampled headmaster pay at 50 private schools across the country. The average headmaster (in that study) made $260,392 with the highest paid headmaster (Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia) earning $425,101.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to lead Eagle County Schools and feel the Board of Education has been very fair with me in terms of my compensation. I have a doctorate, two master’s degrees, and a 20-year career in education that I bring to the leadership role in our community. I’m also one of only a handful of sitting superintendents in the nation who have had the honor of serving as a chief state school officer, which I did in Iowa before coming to Eagle County. I would gladly stack up my credentials against any other school leader in the nation.
And what about results? Last fall, based on a survey I sent out to about 6,000 people in our community, around 90 percent of our staff gave me high marks in meeting the goals on my evaluation. With all the changes in the student assessment systems in Colorado over the past few years, we’ve lost some ability to do a comparative analysis of student achievement. We have, however, put in place a comprehensive strategic plan benchmarked after the best performing schools in the world and we measure our performance against that plan in a systematic way.
Time will ultimately tell if I’ve been effective at implementing that plan and delivering on the goal of making Eagle County Schools a globally competitive school system. I embrace that goal and will ultimately stand to account for our results.
I know there are those out there who will use my salary to attack our schools, as if hammering my pay would solve the millions of dollars in deferred capital needs we have or provide the funds needed to pay our staff more or enable us to hire additional qualified teachers to reduce class sizes.
I put forth this article to be open and transparent about a common distraction when it comes to the school funding discussion. As demonstrated here, I’m fine to put out there what I make and how it stacks up compared to other superintendents and data.
But when it comes to really addressing school funding here in Eagle County and in our state, I’d suggest we look for solutions at the scale of the problem.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at email@example.com.