Policy Documents

Actual Pay: A Survey of Missouri Public School Superintendent Salary and Benefit Packages

Audrey Spalding –
July 29, 2010

In this interesting paper, Show-Me Institute researcher Audrey Spalding analyzes a topic that has received little systematic study: the compensation of school superintendents. School superintendents are the CEOs of our public school districts. Missouri school districts spend roughly $ 9,500 per student in current operating expenses. This rises to nearly $ 13,000 per student when capital expenditures are included. Superintendents, with the approval of their boards, make important decisions about how these resources are allocated.

They make staffing decisions, including hiring and firing teachers and principals. They set pay and benefits for these staff. They invest in technology and curricula. They open and close schools. In many of our counties, the public school system is the largest employer by far. This makes the school superintendent and the jobs and resources he controls a very important person.

So, how are these education decision-makers compensated? Which superintendent and district factors explain differences in superintendent pay? In this study, Spalding attempts to answer these questions by drawing on two new sources of data. The first are salary data reported to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). These data are routinely reported to DESE by districts, but they are not reported by DESE to the general public. Spalding filed a sunshine request to obtain several years of these reported salary data. However, there is more to executive compensation than just salaries. To get a fuller picture of compensation, Spalding made sunshine requests to all Missouri school districts for superintendent contracts. These contracts provide important data about other benefits that superintendents receive, including the use of cars, additional annuities, vacation time, bonus pay, etc. She coded much of these contract data and worked them into her analysis.

After publication of this report, interested readers will be able to access the underlying data including all of the superintendent contracts, on the Show-Me Institute's website. This project thus advances the institute's mission to provide solid economic analysis of public policy, and also to increase government transparency.