University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Superintendent Salaries in Arkansas

In The View from the OEP on April 12, 2017 at 1:46 pm


Last month, a bill limiting superintendent salaries to 250% of the lowest teacher salary in the district passed out of the House education committee. HB1917, sponsored by Representative Walker, didn’t go any further before the end of the session, but it got us thinking.

Representative Walker’s stated intention was to use the bill as a level to increase teacher salaries in the state.  As we’ve discussed before, teacher salaries are determined by local school boards, so perhaps the proposed Superintendent salary limitation would  incentivize school boards to increase teacher salaries to be able to pay more for a quality superintendent, or perhaps the Superintendent would pressure an increase in teacher salaries to ensure his/her own.

Comparing Superintendent and Teacher Salaries

Here at the OEP, we decided to take a look at the salary data, and hope these short analyses will help you learn more about superintendent salaries in Arkansas, how HB1917 would work in practice, and some modifications that could make the salary comparisons more equitable.

First, we had to find how much each district paid the “lowest paid classroom teacher”.  Teacher salary varies by experience and education, but we used the public salary scales to determine how much each district paid teachers with a BA and no experience- the lowest point on the salary scale.  Beginning teachers in Arkansas have an average of salary of $33,645.

Next, we had to find how much each superintendent is currently paid.  This information was more difficult to locate.  While each district is required to post the salaries of all employees on their website, it often takes some digging to find.  Like teachers, superintendents vary in their experience and education which impacts their salary.  In addition, some superintendents receive additional benefits like a car, a phone allowance, or a housing allowance. For the purposes of this analysis, we just consider the most recently available annual salary. The average superintendent in Arkansas makes $113,801 annually.

The HB1917 Ratio would apply at the district level, with each superintendent’s salary compared to the salary of the teachers employed by his/her district.  We’ve developed a handy spreadsheet so you can find all the data here. A quick note about charter schools: Charters were excluded from these analysis because many have waivers for salary scales and other requirements, but we included what data we would locate in the spreadsheet.

HB1917 Ratio: Superintendent Salary Compared to Base Teacher Salary

The table below examines the district-level comparison, and the proposed HB1917 Ratio.  Statewide, superintendents are paid 338% of beginning teacher salaries. The lowest HB1917 Ratio is 218%, while the highest is 639%.  Note that the district with the lowest ratio pays beginning teachers more than the state average, and pays the superintendent less than the state average.

In fact only 5 districts (2% of the traditional districts in the state) currently have a HB1917 Ratio less than 250%. Although the intention of the cap seems to be to incentivize districts to raise teacher salaries, two of the districts with low ratios, below 250%,  pay starting teachers less than the state average, and the reason why the ratio is low is due not to better teacher salaries but rather to the relatively low superintendent salaries.

Statewide Average Lowest Ratio Highest Ratio
Base Teacher Salary        (BA+0 years experience) $33,656 $33,750 $35,232
Superintendent Salary $113,647 $73,494 $225,000
HB1917 Ratio   Superintendent Salary / Teacher Salary 338% 218% 639%

HB1917 Ratio v2: Superintendent Salary Compared to Average Teacher Salary

Given how few districts would meet the 250% threshold under the proposed bill,  we think it might be more meaningful to compare superintendent salaries to the average teacher salary in each district.  The average teacher in Arkansas has 12 years experience and 41% have a Master’s degree. District average teacher salary is a more equitable comparison because superintendents have more education and experience than the brand-new teachers in their districts. We call this ratio HB1917 Ratio v2

When examining average teacher salary under HB1917 Ratio v2, 60% of districts (139 of the traditional districts in the state) have a HB1917 Ratio v2 of less than 250%.  The table below examines the district-level comparison of the modified ratio.  Over all districts, the average HB1917 Ratio v2 is 232%, while the lowest is 168% and the highest is 416%.

Statewide Average Lowest Ratio Highest Ratio
Average Classroom Teacher Salary $48,976 $55,819 $51,740
Superintendent Salary $113,801 $94,000 $215,000
HB1917 Ratio v2 Superintendent Salary / Average Teacher Salary 232% 168% 416%

HB1917 Ratio v3: Adjusting for Contract Length

One more thought: Superintendents generally are contracted to work 25% more days than teachers. Teachers typically have 190-day contracts, while Superintendent contracts are usually for 240 days. It makes sense to calculate a daily salary based on the number of days contracted to work and compare that rate between Superintendents and teachers.
HB1917 Ratio v3– the ratio of the daily superintendent salary to the daily average teacher salary, has an average of 183% over all districts. Under this model which is adjusted for days worked, 88% of the districts in the state have a HB1917 Ratio v3 less than  250%.

Statewide Average Lowest Ratio Highest Ratio
Daily Average Classroom Teacher Salary $258 $294 $272
Daily Superintendent Salary $474 $392 $896
HB1917 Ratio v3 Daily Superintendent Salary / Daily Average Teacher Salary 184% 133% 329%

HB1917 Ratio v4: Adjusting for Number of Students Served

A teacher in Arkansas is responsible for, on average, 12 students, but the average superintendent is responsible for over 1,800.  Some superintendents oversee around 350 students, while Little Rock’s superintendent supports over 20,000.  District size and superintendent salary are correlated at +.84 , meaning that superintendents in larger districts generally get paid more than superintendents in smaller districts. Examining salary on a per pupil basis provides further insight into the relationship between superintendent and teacher salaries in the state.

HB1917 Ratio v4– the ratio of the daily per pupil superintendent salary to the daily per pupil average teacher salary, has an average of 1.23% over all districts. As you would expect, teachers make much more per student than superintendents, with the average teacher earning $21 per pupil per day, and the average superintendent earning $0.25 per pupil per day.  Under this student enrollment-adjusted model, the largest districts have the lowest superintendent cost per pupil, and smaller districts have higher superintendent costs per pupil.

Statewide Average Lowest Ratio Highest Ratio
Daily per pupil Average Classroom Teacher Salary $20.78 $24.96 $15.18
Daily per pupil Superintendent Salary $0.25 $0.04 $1.03
HB1917 Ratio v4               Daily per pupil Superintendent Salary /    Daily per pupil Average Teacher Salary 1.23% 0.17% 6.8%

There are issues with this ratio, however, because examining only the superintendent’s salary likely provides a distorted view of the per pupil cost.  In larger districts there are typically additional administrators supporting the superintendent whose salaries we are not including, while in small districts Central Administration staff is limited.

Summary and recommendations:

Here at OEP, we like the idea of examining teacher salaries, superintendent salaries, and how schools are using their resources to support student learning.  It is interesting to note that neither superintendent salary or average teacher salaries were correlated with district performance in 2015-16 (values were .09 and .24 respectively). While we like the idea of examining school spending, we like it best when it makes sense and compares apples to apples as much as possible.

By using average teacher salary instead of base teacher salary, and adjusting for the difference in the number of days contracted, the ratio of superintendent salary and average teacher salary shows that superintendents are typically making 184% of the average teacher in their district.  Given that 88% of the districts in the state have a ratio below  the proposed 250%, we suggest that this is the more reasonable ratio to use to examine the relationship between Superintendent and teacher salaries.

For smaller districts, it might be helpful to examine the per pupil cost of superintendent and teacher salaries to ensure that resources are being allocated appropriately.  Teacher-student ratios are below the funded level in every district throughout the state, but particularly in small districts.  Current teacher-student ratio is one teacher per twelve students, while the state standards and the funding matrix allow a for a ratio of more than double the current teacher-student ratio of one teacher per twelve students.  Increasing the number of students per teacher to nearer the funded ratio allows for greater resources to be allocated to teacher salaries or other district needs.

How much SHOULD districts be spending?

Every district receives the same funding per student for teacher and administrative salaries and benefits. Funding for teacher salaries and benefits is set at $4,290 per student for the 2015-16 school year, and about 75% of school districts are allocating that amount or more.

The only central office position required by the state accreditation standards is the superintendent.  In the funding matrix, central administration is indirectly funded at $376 per student, and includes the salaries and benefits of the superintendent as well as administration personnel (legal, fiscal, human resources, communications, etc.), district instructional and pupil support directors, and clerical staff.  Only one district was spending more than $376 per pupil on the superintendent salary, and the HB1917 Ratio v4 captures the difference between the relatively high superintendent salary and the low teacher salary.

Examining the relationship between per pupil funding and spending on salaries and benfits, as well as comparing to ‘similar districts’ can help schools ensure that their resources are being allocated appropriately.

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