• from The Miami Herald - "School Chiefs Hard to Hire."

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School Chiefs Hard to Hire.

June 2002

By William L. Bainbridge

Economist John Maynard Keynes informed the world during the Great Depression that the only force determining the value of an object is the relationship of the consumer to the object. Value, according to Keynes, is determined by demand alone.

Across the nation, there is an extremely high demand and low supply of those willing to tackle the rigors of school administrative positions. If we think of capable school system superintendents as the objects, their value is about ready to go through the ceiling.

Candidates for administrative positions in schools are becoming aware of how much their skills, education and experience are worth on the job market. Oregon's Portland school district, for example, was recently rebuffed by all four finalists in its search for a new superintendent. A schools spokesperson said: 'There was an undertone in some of the discussions, sort of an unspoken question, `You want me to do what for how little?' ''

Advocates for the candidates said the Portland School Board was not willing to pay the price for good school governance.

E. Joseph Schneider, deputy executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, points to the Portland situation as one example of a board faced with the tough choice between paying the price for a quality leader who could tackle a tough job or bowing to media pressure to keep a ceiling on the school chief's salary. ''It's become a seller's market,'' said Schneider.

Business leaders know that to keep the best people, they have to pay higher salaries. Good administrators are in demand outside the field of education, and will be compensated far more if they go into higher education, healthcare management or corporate environments, where their value is more highly recognized. Recently, the School Board in Dallas offered a $310,000 compensation to the superintendent in an effort to keep him on the job when Texas Tech University recruiters approached him about the chancellor vacancy. Said Schneider, ``Texas is setting a standard that school systems in other states need to carefully watch.''

We demand that our school leaders raise test scores, close gaps created by social inequalities, monitor accountability efforts and manage a huge staff -- all while working under pressure from political groups and community members who expect overnight miracles.

Most school superintendents in major cities stay less than three years. Many experience conflict with elected school boards that attempt to micromanage. Most struggle with inadequate resources necessary to compensate for the lack of kindergarten-readiness skills. Still others battle with elected city or county officials for control. Teachers' unions have become more amenable to compromise in the post-Reagan years, but negotiating with big-city bargaining units is still no easy task.

There just aren't many people out there who are up to these tasks. Is it really too much to ask that they be paid what they are worth?

A soon-to-be-released study by the Arlington, Va., based Education Research Service will report the average salary of a school superintendent with 25,000 or more students is $163,737. On the surface, that may appear more than adequate to most of us, but the report emphasizes that 'one aspect of the increasing difficulties found in attracting high-quality candidates to school building administrative positions might be found in the salary data. The difference between the salaries of an experienced teacher, the pool to which many school systems look for principal candidates, and the relatively new principal is comparatively small -- even smaller for assistant principals -- if average daily-rate data are used. Since evening and weekend hours, which are not included in the calculation of average daily rates, are typical for most principals, `real' differences between the salaries would be even smaller.''

A table in the study depicts the average daily rate paid to a teacher at $225 and an elementary school principal at $278.

The increase of challenges in our nation's urban schools demands new skills for administrators and new pressures for organizational performance. If public-policy leaders want to continue efforts to improve and reform school operations, serious consideration needs to be given to enhancing compensation packages for school-system and building-level managers. Efforts to make superintendent compensation packages comparable with remuneration programs for those who lead complex organizations in other service fields must occur to attract the best and brightest to school leadership positions.

is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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