School superintendent salaries can vary widely
With the progress made by Woodford County Public Schools during Scott Hawkins's nine-year tenure as superintendent, school board Vice Chair Debby Edelen described his new four-year contract as "very appropriate," during an April board meeting. The local Board of Education voted unanimously to award Hawkins the new contract, including a base salary of $162,098.14 for the 2017-18 school year, after an evaluation of his job performance, which judged him to be exemplary in six of seven leadership standards. "We are very proud of the job you're doing and we're very proud of this (school) system," said longtime board member Margie Cleveland following the board's unanimous approval of Hawkins's new contract in April. According to data on salaries reported to the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), the average salary of a Kentucky school superintendent during the 2016-17 school year was $125,958. Salaries for superintendents in counties adjoining Woodford County range from $124,038 in Anderson County to $134,940 in Franklin County to $188,000 in Scott County, according to KDE data for last school year. The highest salaries for superintendents were reported in larger districts: Fayette County ($251,016) and Jefferson County ($276,000) and Boone County ($218,379) schools, the data showed. However, district comparisons are problematic, according to Kentucky School Boards Association spokesman Brad Hughes, because salaries reported to KDE may include a superintendent's total compensation package or only a superintendent's base salary without benefits such as a district-provided vehicle. In addition to a base salary of $133,251 in his previous contract, which had an evergreen clause allowing the Woodford County Board of Education to renew his contract annually, Hawkins received a monthly automobile allowance of $600 for in-state travel to perform job duties (in lieu of leasing or purchasing a vehicle for his use) and a cell phone. In his new contract, Hawkins will not receive an automobile allowance, but he does get a board-provided cell phone. Both contracts pay up to $3,000 per year for professional and civic membership dues. During a recent telephone interview about superintendent salaries, Hughes said, "The biggest factor in (determining) superintendent salaries statewide right now is the ongoing turnover that we're having. "We are having in the neighborhood of 20 superintendent changes each year." The reasons why superintendents are leaving their posts vary greatly, according to Hughes. He said many are choosing to retire because they have put in their 30 years and others leave the profession because they're "frustrated by all of the mandates that come out of Frankfort and Washington, D.C." In situations where a superintendent has been moving the school district forward and there are no major, lingering controversies in that district, Hughes said, "It's tough to hold onto a good superintendent." At the board's April meeting, Woodford County Board of Education Chair Ambrose Wilson IV said Hawkins "could've gone other places." And Hawkins acknowledged during a recent interview that other districts have contacted him about superintendent openings, "but I love it here. And so I never really considered applying for those other positions because I was very happy here, my family was very happy here. And I think we've got some really good things happening (in our schools)," he said. Moreover, Hawkins said he "loves the people I get to work with. And that's not just the administrative team. That's everybody in this district." The average salary of a superintendent in Kentucky school districts has remained fairly flat over the last three years - only climbing from $120,521 in 2014-15 to $123,482 in 2015-16 to $125,958 in 2016-17, according to the KDE data. One reason for these stagnant salaries may be inexperience. Local boards of education do not usually award a higher salary to a new hire, especially if that person's a first-time superintendent - as often is the case, Hughes said. Hawkins said his new four-year contract provides stability to him, the district and other employees. Yet he also knows the district will face challenges, including an uncertain federal budget in terms of school funding, a new accountability model for Kentucky schools and "how do you just continue to get better" as a school district? "There are (achievement) gaps that we can reduce. There are populations (of students) that we can better serve," said Hawkins. "How do you continue to push forward and continue to grow and get better, and provide great opportunities for students? That's always going to be a challenge, but I think it's one we (as a district) all embrace." Having finished his 29th year in public education, Hawkins said he could retire now. He will make a decision about the future when his new four-year contract ends. "You know when it's time," said Hawkins when asked about retirement. "I still love coming to work every day. I still love what I do. I still love the people I get to work with. I love our kids. I love our community."