Public Service at Severe Public Expense

For years the self-proclaimed ‘education lobby’ has continued to perpetuate the narrative that public schools are chronically underfunded in the State of Texas. Contrary to this narrative, data continues to suggest that how those funds are ultimately allocated is the real issue, with near-stagnant improvements in basic core educational outcomes in many areas around the state.

For instance, in Texas, according to data compiled by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), many Superintendents of public school districts enjoy salaries well above what both the Governor of Texas and the President of the United States make annually. For those concerned about government school funding, this might be a good place to start.

Superintendent Salaries: An Overview

In Texas, the compensation for a school district superintendent is set by the locally elected school board.

In recent history, the overall compensation for superintendents has taken a variety of forms whereby on top of overall salary, many have a litany of incentives and bonuses written into contracts in an attempt for the school boards to attract what they perceive as talent in a competitive market.

It is important to note that the data provided by the TEA does not include the additional benefits that many of the contracts for Superintendents include, things such as automobile allowances, cell phone or technology allowances, life insurance policy allowances, civic activity allowances, cost of living adjustments, medical insurance premium allowances, reimbursements for payments to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) or their pension system, and other bonuses, just to name a few.

Some suggest that without these incentives, it would be impossible to find a superintendent. It should be noted that though the role of the superintendent is not an elected one, it is still in service of the public, or should be.

According to Texas Education Code, Sec. 11.201, “(a) the superintendent is the educational leader and the chief executive officer of the school district.” and “(d) the duties of the superintendent include: (1) assuming administrative responsibility and leadership for the planning, organization, operation, supervision, and evaluation of the education programs, services, and facilities of the district and for the annual performance appraisal of the district’s staff” among several other responsibilities.

One would think that with these responsibilities should come transparency and accountability, as the superintendent is a steward of immense taxpayer resources.

Superintendent Salaries: A Comparison

As of October 2022, according to the TEA, five public school superintendents are compensated more than the President of the United States, who governs over 330 million Americans and is paid $400,000 per year.

Out of 1,207 school districts in Texas, more than 500 Superintendents are paid more than the Governor of the State of Texas who is paid $153,750 per year and governs over 30 million Texans.

The following table includes the top 20 salaries for public school superintendents in Texas as of 2022-2023.

County District Name Charter Status Superintendent Name Base Pay Calculated Full FTE Pay District Enrollment
Harris Cypress-Fairbanks ISD Traditional ISD/CSD John Henry $521,003 $521,003 118,010
Chambers Barbers Hill ISD Traditional ISD/CSD Gregory Poole $466,062 $466,062 7,339
El Paso Ysleta ISD Traditional ISD/CSD Guadalupe De La Torre $442,605 $442,605 36,183
Dallas Duncanville ISD Traditional ISD/CSD Marcell Smith $435,013 $435,013 11,915
Travis KIPP Texas Public Schools Open Enrollment Charter Sehba Ali $409,773 $409,773 33,068
Harris Alief ISD Traditional ISD/CSD H.D. Chambers $395,968 $395,968 40,329
Harris Klein ISD Traditional ISD/CSD Jenny McGown $388,875 $388,875 53,712
Tarrant Crowley ISD Traditional ISD/CSD Michael McFarland $381,924 $381,924 16,729
Harris Katy ISD Traditional ISD/CSD Kenneth Gregorski $373,296 $373,296 92,667
Fort Bend Fort Bend ISD Traditional ISD/CSD Christie Whitbeck $370,000 $370,000 79,660
Tarrant Arlington ISD Traditional ISD/CSD Jose Cavazos $369,514 $369,514 56,167
Collin McKinney ISD Traditional ISD/CSD Ricky McDaniel $365,000 $365,000 23,342
Harris Tomball ISD Traditional ISD/CSD Martha Salazar-Zamora $361,264 $361,264 21,426
Starr Roma ISD Traditional ISD/CSD Carlos Gonzalez $213,800 $356,988 5,977
Montgomery Conroe ISD Traditional ISD/CSD Curtis Null $356,957 $356,957 70,783
Cameron Brownsville ISD Traditional ISD/CSD Rene Gutierrez $354,128 $354,128 37,898
Dallas Garland ISD Traditional ISD/CSD Ricardo Lopez $352,838 $352,838 52,767
Bexar Northside ISD Traditional ISD/CSD Brian Woods $350,535 $350,535 102,719
Harris Pasadena ISD Traditional ISD/CSD Ellen Powell $350,097 $350,097 48,726
Harris Houston ISD Traditional ISD/CSD Millard House $350,000 $350,000 189,934

For the exhaustive list and raw data from the Texas Education Agency go here.

How do the actual public school educators compare? On average, teachers in major suburban districts make nearly $60,000 per year, with teachers in urban districts making on average roughly $58,000 per year, and teachers in rural districts making on average slightly over $51,000 per year. The salary ranges vary depending on the region in which an educator resides in Texas, with the base pay being tied to a salary schedule provided by the TEA and the number of years of experience also factoring into the overall number.

The median household income in Texas is estimated at $73,035.

Legislative Action

In Texas’ 88th Legislative Session, State Rep. Brian Harrison (R-Midlothian) filed House Bill 1476 which ultimately sought to limit the future salaries of any state officer or employee to not exceed the governor’s salary. Though the legislation was referred to the House State Affairs committee it never received a public hearing and as such was never considered by lawmakers.

Other states have endeavored to address this issue as well, albeit in different ways with different results.

In New Jersey, an attempt was made in 2011 to cap superintendent salaries to that of the Governor, which at the time was $175,000 per year with a salary scale based on the enrollment of school districts, except the state’s twelve largest districts. That cap was later raised to $191,584 in 2017. The results were a mixed bag, as many superintendents left for other jobs in nearby states or some school districts worked around the cap by providing merit-based bonuses. Opponents of such an approach generally believe that though there might be some savings in the short-term the likelihood of turnover is higher, increasing costs to find a replacement and other issues.

In North Dakota, legislation was proposed that would cap superintendent salaries at 1.5 percent of the state and local tax revenue received by a district while also requiring that small districts comprised of 475 students or less share a superintendent with another district. The proposed legislation aimed to cut administrative costs and redirect those savings to teacher pay. Though the legislation received a committee hearing it failed to pass the North Dakota House of Representatives.

In Nebraska, a bipartisan group of state senators proposed legislation seeking to limit the salary of superintendents to no more than five times the salary of a first-year teacher in the same district. The proposed legislation was ultimately unsuccessful.

Conclusion

The pay disparity, when compared to other forms of public service, is stark. To make matters worse, the disparity between enrollment sizes of districts among superintendents lacks any perceivable logic. Texas state lawmakers should seriously consider this issue in future legislative sessions and involve themselves in ensuring an efficient and effective use of taxpayer resources going forward.

At the very least, the salaries of superintendents should have some form of meritocracy attached to them, and though these salaries are set at the local level, the resources used for public education are provided by taxpayers at both the local and state levels.

The salary data provided by the TEA might also serve as an explanation as to why so many superintendents are fighting against things like school choice or parental empowerment, afraid of overturning the apple cart. When public service pays this well, why would they want to change it?

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