Wednesday, September 5, 2018

School Administrators Part 1: How school superintendents compare to the chief executives in the Kansas economy

Among the most common questions about Kansas public schools is the number of administrators and their pay. Critics often say there are too many administrators and they make too much. That begs the question: compared to what?

To answer this question, KASB looked at how school district administrator numbers and salaries compare to all Kansas employees, both public and private sector. We started with data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, specifically the State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates for Kansas. The most recent report is from May 2017 (Link). The BLS estimated the total number of Kansas employees, public and private, was 1,369,110. Those positions are broken into 22 major occupational groups, including “management occupations” and hundreds of specific occupational titles within those groups.

We then compared that to data from the Kansas State Department of Education on school district employees and expenditures.

This is part 1, which will start with school superintendents, the positions that seem to draw the most public scrutiny.

We compared superintendent data with the BLS position of chief executive, described as “Determine and formulate policies and provide overall direction of companies or private and public sector organizations within guidelines set up by a board of directors or similar governing body. Plan, direct, or coordinate operational activities at the highest level of management with the help of subordinate executives and staff managers.”

In other words, superintendents have the same responsibilities as other chief executives, and their “board of directors” – the local school board – is looking for the same management qualities as boards in the private sector or other public sector organization.

Here is what we found.

1.      On average, Kansas school superintendents earn less than other chief executives in Kansas, and their salaries have increased less.

The average annual wage of a Kansas CEO was $170,170 in 2017. According to KSDE, the average superintendent salary was $113,245 in 2016-2017, which means the average Kansas CEO makes about 50 percent more than the average school superintendent.

How have those numbers changed over time? KSDE reports superintendent salaries back to 2001. From 2001 to 2017, the Kansas average superintendent salary increased from $78,662 to $113,245, or 44.0 percent. According to BLS data for 2001, the average Kansas chief executive salary increased from $105,140 to $170,170, or 61.8 percent. That means public and private organizations have placed a much higher value on executive leadership. It also means Kansas CEO pay across all organizations increased over 40 percent more than superintendents since 2001.

Certainly, some USD school superintendents make much more than the average – but many make less. That is characteristic of any average. Superintendents of much larger districts, with much larger budgets and more employees, tend to make more. The same is true of executives in the private sector.

2.      There are more superintendent positions per school employee than overall chief executives, but the superintendent/employee ratio has been falling while the chief executive/employee ratio has been increasing.

The BLS estimated the total number of Kansas employees, public and private, was 1,369,110 in May 2017. Of that number, 4,210 were chief executives, or 3.075 per 1,000 employees.

In 2017-18, there were 252 “full time equivalent” school superintendents for 286 school districts. (Several districts share a superintendent, and many superintendents are not considered full time because they hold other duties.) With 69,111 FTE school positions, 252 school superintendents represent 3.646 positions per 1,000 school district employees, compared to 3.075 chief executives per 1,000 for all employees in Kansas.

However, the number of total Kansas employees was 1,321,040 in 2001 with 3,950 chief executives, so the ratio of chief executives to all employees rose slightly from 2.99 in 2001 to 3.075 in 2017. The FTE number of school employees was 65,150.4 in 2001, with 278.5 superintendents, so the ratio of superintendents to all employees dropped from 4.275 to 3.646.

In other words, while there are more superintendents per 1,000 school district employees than chief executives per 1,000 total employees in Kansas, the ratio of superintendents to employees has been dropping while the ratio of all CEOs to all employees has been rising.

To put it another way, there are about 18.6 percent more superintendents per employee than overall chief executives, but they make 33.5 percent less in annual salary.

School consolidation would reduce the number of school superintendents, but it would also likely increase average salaries because school districts would be larger and executive compensation is highly correlated with organizational size. It is not clear that spending on superintendents would decrease. In fact, if school districts were more like the overall public and private sector, there would be somewhat fewer superintendents, but they would be paid substantially more.

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