Critics knock school superintendent pay-cap idea

July 29, 2011

The suggestion that Indiana lawmakers impose a limit on the pay for school district superintendents doesn't seem to have much support.

A legislative committee studying the issue heard Thursday from state and local education officials who panned the idea, but the lawmaker who wanted the proposal reviewed didn't attend the meeting and no one spoke in favor of the cap.

Dennis Brooks, a senior adviser to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, told the panel that it should be up to individual school boards to decide the value of their superintendents and what they ought to be paid.

Brooks called that a "free-market approach."

"While the state should continue to encourage strong leadership and oversight for school corporations in compensation, capping superintendent salaries, we believe, would inhibit locals' ability to compete and provide their schools the leadership they need to be successful," said Brooks, a former superintendent in Floyd County.

Superintendent pay came under scrutiny after the head of the Wayne Township district in suburban Indianapolis received a retirement package worth more than $1 million.

State Department of Education figures show that Indiana's 291 superintendents have salaries ranging from $29,400 to $262,800, with the average at $113,162, The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne reported.

Only one state was mentioned during Thursday's meeting as having such a pay cap. New Jersey this year limited pay based on district enrollment so that only superintendents in districts with more than 10,000 students can earn more than the governor's salary of $175,000.

As a result, some superintendents in that state are stepping down to avoid large pay cuts.

"To do a blanket statement and say every superintendent in the state should be treated the same when every community is different ... would be wrong," Chris Himsel, superintendent of Northwest Allen County Schools, told the Indiana committee.

Lawmakers on the panel said they weren't interested in taking away local school boards' control over administrative pay.

"Any attempts to set a salary schedule for superintendents statewide would inhibit our competitive edge. Each school community has something that's unique that needs to be addressed locally," said Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon.

Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, sponsored the motion for the superintendent pay study and said the scrutiny on pay for school administrators is positive.

"What matters most is we're drawing attention to the issue so that elected school board members around the state know that the public's paying attention," Banks told the Evansville Courier & Press.

Banks said he didn't expect to sponsor a bill calling for a pay cap during the next legislative session that starts in January.

Instead, he said, he will likely propose a requirement that school districts spend 65 percent of their state funding on "in the classroom" expenses excluding administrator pay.

"Every dollar that we spend raising a superintendent's salary is less money that we spend on teachers and on students in the classroom," Banks said.

House Education Committee chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, told WISH-TV he believed taxpayers should be able to easily know a superintendent's compensation, including benefits, travel allowances and retirement payments.

"A bottom-line compensation number is what the public needs to have access to," Behning said.


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