As a result of increasing financial pressures, a decreasing tax base, and recently heightened public concern over the quality of education provided by many public schools, the current career outlook for school superintendents is significantly less optimistic than in the past.
For decades, becoming a superintendent was a logical career move for an education professional. One might begin his or her career as a classroom teacher and, over time, move into administrative roles of increasing responsibility, culminating, after a decade or more of service, with a position as the top administrator. However, financial pressures and public concerns are leading to more school district consolidations and, therefore, fewer positions for school superintendents. When two or more school districts consolidate, the first personnel cuts are commonly in the district offices, where redundant positions are eliminated.
School Districts Face Financial Challenges
School districts have faced several different types of funding challenges in recent years. The Committee for Education Funding, for example, reports that Federal funding for education will be cut by 5% in 2013 and even more in years to come. The full report, available here, outlines the anticipated cuts in the coming years and the potential impact those cuts could have.
In 2009, USA Today reported that the growing tide of home foreclosures had a devastating effect on schools, as property values plummeted and tax-based funding was sapped almost overnight (Toppo, 2009). As funding and student enrollment diminished, more school districts considered the advantages of consolidating.
Public Scrutiny for School Administrators
Recently, citizens’ action groups have shined a light on superintendent salaries and many local and regional newspapers have encouraged public discourse on what many consider inflated compensation for top education administrators. While the School Superintendents Association reports the average superintendent salary to be about $125,000 per year, in some areas superintendents earn much more, which, especially in a time of high unemployment and economic recession encourages closer scrutiny of the positions. In addition, recent efforts to tie compensation in education to student performance has led to widespread interest in potential alternatives to employing highly-paid executives in the public sector.
Some Positive News
Despite the challenges facing education today, and the trend toward consolidation, several sources have reported that a cohort of existing school superintendents is nearing retirement. Many may be offered incentives to retire early and reduce costs for their school districts. In addition, recent state initiatives to cap school superintendent salaries has led many to consider positions in different fields or to relocate to other states. In 2011, after Governor Chris Christie enacted pay caps, twenty-five percent of New Jersey school superintendents reported plans to leave their positions. The full impact of this salary cap initiative in New Jersey is elaborated in this article.
Pursuing a Position as a Superintendent
For those interested in pursuing a career as an executive school administrator, careful research will reveal the states and specific locations where positions are most likely to be available. Understanding a state’s policies regarding salary and benefits and having a complete picture of a local areas economic challenges will allow for an informed decision and improved chances of securing a position.