by Gwen Moritz
Posted 9/30/2013 12:00 am
Updated 12 months ago
(This story contains a correction. See end of story for details.)
It’s been 10 years since Arkansas Business last published a list of school superintendent salaries, a decade during which the number of traditional school districts dropped from 310 to 238 while the number of open-enrollment public charter schools has grown to 17.
Comparisons, then, are not perfect, but data from the 2011-12 school year, the most recent available from the Arkansas Education Department, shows:
- The total salaries paid to school district superintendents (including charter school executives of various titles and the heads of four regional education cooperatives) totaled $26.8 million. That compares with $23.25 million in the 2002-03 school year, an increase of about 15 percent over roughly a decade.
- The average salary was just over $105,000 in 2011-12, up about 40 percent from nine school years earlier, when the average was just under $75,000.
Back then, the superintendent of the Cabot School District was the highest paid in the state, earning $150,000 a year. In fiscal 2012, 23 superintendents earned that much.
No. 1 on this week’s list is Tony Prothro, the embattled former superintendent of the Benton School District, who was paid nearly $300,000 in fiscal 2012 — including accrued sick time and vacation payable when his contract ended.
Prothro’s base salary during his final year at Benton was $154,546. His replacement, Jeff Collum, was hired at a salary of $132,500.
The highest regular compensation, $226,806, in 2011-12 was that of Morris Holmes, superintendent of the Little Rock School District, the state’s largest. Holmes resigned effective June 30 of this year after two years at the helm, and his replacement, Dexter Suggs Sr., is being paid a base salary of $200,000. (When Ken James had that job 10 years ago, he was paid $145,000.)
Jerry Guess, No. 3 on the list with a salary of $215,000, is still superintendent of the Pulaski County School District, but his situation is unusual. He was hired at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year by state Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell after the state took over the foundering district.
No laws regulate the salaries paid to school superintendents in Arkansas, according to Mike Mertens, assistant executive director of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, other than the minimum salary schedules that apply to all certified teachers.
The AAEA conducts an annual survey of superintendent salaries and compares them with national data. The salaries typically increase each year, but “not a lot,” he said. And Arkansas superintendent salaries are still significantly below national averages.
“Arkansas is a rural state. We have a lot of rural districts that are small districts,” he said.
The number of districts in the state has dropped by nearly a quarter over the past decade, a result of the educational reforms forced by the state Supreme Court’s Lake View ruling in 2002. And that has, by definition, increased the average size of school districts in the state.
Mertens predicted more consolidation in the next few years because there are several districts that have continued to lose enrollment, dropping near what he called “the magic number” of 350 students in all classes, kindergarten through high school.
Under state law, districts that enroll fewer than 350 students for two consecutive years then have one year to arrange annexation to another district. If the district is unable to work out an annexation plan on its own, the state Board of Education takes over and arranges consolidation.
(Correction, Oct. 3, 2013: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that Tony Prothro's compensation from the Benton School District included "the cost of getting rid of him." In fact, the difference between his salary and his total compensation was accrued vacation and sick time that was payable when his contract ended in June 2012.)