The Baltimore County Board of Education could be forced to consider an annual salary of $200,000 or more to clinch a deal with a superintendent superstar to lead the nation's 25th-largest school system through a minefield of issues that includes teacher burnout and school safety.
"To put it as simply as possible, there is a shortage of good people," said Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. "And good people can demand better salaries when it's a seller's market."
School board members say they are willing to raise the superintendent's salary -- departing Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione earns $128,750 a year -- but not without a recommendation from Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, the consulting firm they hired recently to conduct a national search.
"We need to sit down and talk to the consultants, because they are the ones with the latest information on what salaries are in this area," said board President Donald L. Arnold. "At this point, we don't know what other school districts are offering."
The school board was to meet with a representative of the Hazard firm last week in Towson, but bad weather forced a postponement. A new date has not been set.
Board members say they want to be competitive with the superintendent salary and benefits package they will put together during the next few months. They hope to hire a superintendent by February to take over the 106,550-student system. Marchione will retire in June.
"I truly believe that to choose the next superintendent may be one of the most important decisions I make as a board member," said Sanford V. Teplitzky. "I want to make sure our package is competitive so we don't suffer from good candidates not applying because the salary is too low."
Board members recognize that even with a $684 million operating budget, they face fiscal limits.
"It's not like we have an infinite well we can always go to for dollars," Arnold said.
Superintendent salaries for large, urban school systems such as Baltimore County's have been on the rise in recent years, experts said. The national average for superintendent salaries last year was $133,702, according to Educational Research Service.
This summer, Montgomery and Prince George's counties signed contracts with superintendents that included salaries as high as $237,000, setting off a buzz among education officials across the nation.
Recently, school officials have found that they must offer large salaries and creative perks -- including housing allowances, chauffeured cars, part-time associate professor jobs at community colleges and cash bonuses -- to compete for a dwindling pool of prospective superintendents.
"Some good people have left the system for jobs in the private sector that offer better pay and less headache," said Houston. He added that the average superintendent makes only a tenth of what a typical chief executive officer in the private sector earns.
Baltimore County's superintendent's salary is "very low," he said. "There are a lot of principals who make more than that now," he said. Even $200,000 wouldn't be considered that high, he added.
A shift in public perception about the roles superintendents play in the community -- including contributions to economic development -- has led to higher salaries. School systems are paying larger salaries to candidates whose resumes and references guarantee results, including higher reading, math and SAT scores.
"A large-district superintendency is one of the most important public service jobs in the country," said Hal Seamon, deputy executive director of the National School Boards Association.
"I think people are just beginning to recognize that the men and women in these top positions have got to be very talented and experienced and that they have to be paid well," Seamon said.
Pub Date: 9/20/99