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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Florida's teacher salaries go down, school superintendents go up


by Lilly Rockwell

While many Florida school teachers have seen their salaries decline or stay the same over the last four years, some superintendent salaries are on the rise.

In nine Florida school districts, superintendent salaries increased by 5 percent or more in the last four years, with one school district – Lake County- raising its superintendent salary by 29 percent, according to data on base salaries compiled by the Florida Department of Education.

On average, school superintendents were paid 1 percent more in 2010-11 than four years ago, or an increase of about $762. During that same time, teachers saw their salaries decrease by $1,200, or 2.5 percent.

Still, while 27 school districts and one university-sponsored charter school are paying their superintendents more than they were four years ago, the majority of school districts gave their superintendents no increase in base salary over the last four years or a new superintendent was hired at a lower salary.

In Miami-Dade County School District, for instance, superintendent Alberto Carvalho makes a base salary of $274,999, about 15 percent less than the district’s superintendent made four years ago.

Some of the salary increases are minor – 1 or 2 percent, while others are significant.

School board members say those districts that did increase administrator pay probably had to, either because they were trying to lure a talented superintendent away from a high performing district, or because of a performance-based incentive.

Nine school superintendents make over $200,000 a year. Those superintendents work in the state’s largest school districts, with the largest base salary going to former Broward County schools superintendent Jim Notter who made $299,425. Notter has since left the job and the district is in the process of finding his replacement.

Some of the biggest salary increases went to small school districts that hired a new superintendent within the last four years. In Lake County, just west of Orlando, Susan Moxley was hired to oversee the district’s 43 schools and was paid $36,680 more than the previous superintendent.

Lake County school board member Jim Miller said Moxley was recruited from nearby Orange County school district and deserves the salary she is earning.

“She does a great job and we’re very pleased,” Miller said. “I don’t feel like she is overpaid.”

But during the same time that Moxley was hired, teachers have seen their salaries decrease on average by 2 percent.

“We have had no money for raises and next year it’s going to be worse,” Miller said. “It’s nothing against the teacher, it’s just the way it is and I don’t see it changing anytime soon.”

In Gilchrist County, Superintendent Don Thomas is paid $114,030, an increase of 16 percent over the $98,413 salary paid to the superintendent four years ago. Thomas was elected to be superintendent, which means his salary is partially set by a formula in state law that determines pay based on a county’s population.

Some superintendents are elected by county voters while others are appointed by the school board, which has greater authority to negotiate pay because the salary not tied to a formula.

Gilchrist school board member Robert Clemons said Thomas was serving a second stint as a superintendent, having had the job a few years ago. His contract allowed for automatic 3 percent increases.

“When he stepped back into office, his salary was immediately higher than the outgoing superintendent because of that policy,” Clemons explained. Meanwhile, the average teacher salary at Gilchrist schools has stayed flat.

“We realized what was happening and we adopted a policy to stop that practice,” Clemons said. He said the district was “running out of money” and the superintendent agreed to a salary freeze.

“There are going to have to be some salary concessions across the board for a lot of people,” Clemons said.

Some school districts made an effort over the last four years to ensure superintendents and other top-level administrators are not receiving better salary increases than teachers.

Manatee County Schools superintendent Tim McGonegal was up for a $13,000 raise for obtaining his doctorate degree but he said he asked the school board to take it off the table.

“It just doesn’t make sense for me to get a $13,000 raise and have other people take a cut,” McGonegal said.

Two out of the past four years teachers in Manatee County public schools were awarded “step” increases that gave teachers raises based on their years of experience, McGonegal said.

McGonegal makes $171,100 in base salary, but with an expense account and car allowance it amounts to $185,021, according to the school district. That is about 16 percent less than the $220,136 his predecessor made.

McGonegal said how to handle salaries has become a hot topic among superintendents.

“What we’ve done in these salary reductions this year is we have it proposed so top administrators took a higher percentage cut than teachers, and for the lowest paid employees they don’t take any cut at all,” McGonegal said.

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