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Calif. Superintendents' Pay and Perks Draw Ire of State Lawmakers

By guest blogger Madeline Will 

Want to buy a house with a no-interest loan? Consider becoming a superintendent in California.

The pay and perks for superintendents in school districts across the state—including district-financed home loans—have become increasingly common and are coming under fire from some California lawmakers. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, both small and large public school districts are giving compensation packages that top and even sometimes double the $176,000 in salary and benfits that Gov. Jerry Brown earns.

For example, when Max McGee was hired as the Palo Alto Unified School District's next superintendent earlier this year, he received a generous compensation package of $295,000 base pay, $9,000 as an annual car allowance, $6,000 for life insurance premiums, and an up-to-$1 million no-interest home loan, according to the Chronicle

Superintendents' hefty pay packages didn't vary too much between small and large districts. The Chronicle found that Lane Weiss, superintendent of the Saratoga Union Elementary district, which has 2,100 students, is making $317,000—on par with San Francisco Unified Superintendent Richard Carranza's salary of $319,000 for his work in the 58,000-student district. 

And among the highest-paid school employees in California last year? Three fired superintendents from Bay Area districts who received six-figure severance payouts.

(The Council of the Great City Schools recently released a report that has lots of data about salaries for schools chiefs in some of the nation's big-city districts—the average for CGCS superintendents was $242,000.)

State lawmakers from both sides of the aisle reacted harshly to the Chronicle's findings.  

Said Mark Leno, a Democrat from San Francisco: "Last year, the legislature invested many billions of additional dollars into education with the intent that they benefit the classroom as much as possible, not top administrators' salaries and perks."

And Assemblyman Brian Jones, a Republican from the San Diego area said: "That's an egregious abuse of taxpayer funds. This is taxpayer money that is supposed to go to teach kids not buy houses."

This isn't a new issue. Back in 2010, Education Week's Lesli Maxwell wrote about cases of superintendents across the country making more than their respective governors. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose salary was less than that of 75 percent of state superintendents, proposed a cap on schools chiefs' salaries which took effect in 2011. 

But a recent editorial in The Star-Ledger said the cap has "backfired." Superintendents are leaving the state to take jobs elsewhere, and in some cases, schools chiefs are even finding ways around the cap (one adopted a new title to avoid the pay cut).

It's a thorny issue because superintendents do difficult, often-thankless work—but are some of these compensation packages excessive? Or are they simply reflecting the market value of top district leaders? 

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