Education

Superintendent salaries have soared while SC’s teacher shortage grew, data show

Here are the states with the highest and lowest paid teachers

Teachers across the country have been walking out of their classrooms demanding higher wages and better funding for their schools. The National Center for Education Statistics reported the states with the highest and lowest paid teachers.
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Teachers across the country have been walking out of their classrooms demanding higher wages and better funding for their schools. The National Center for Education Statistics reported the states with the highest and lowest paid teachers.

Baron Davis was already making good money.

At $191,904, the Richland 2 superintendent drew a salary larger than the state superintendent of education, most of South Carolina’s representatives and senators in Congress and the chief of the State Law Enforcement Division, state salary records show.

Superintendents tend to draw a large salary, but Davis’ was roughly $30,000 higher than the 2018 statewide superintendent average, $161,686, according to the S.C. Department of Education.

On Aug. 13, the Richland 2 school board voted 5-2 to increase his salary by 12.3% following an “overall distinguished” annual evaluation, said district spokeswoman Libby Roof.

That increase brought his salary to $222,477, more than twice what Gov. Henry McMaster makes.

Davis’ salary is just one example of a trend that has played out throughout S.C. for the last 10 years. Since 2004, the average superintendent’s salary — which was already a six-figure number — has increased twice as fast as the average teacher salary, according to the state education department.

While superintendent salaries have been increasing throughout the last decade, South Carolina has been hemorrhaging teachers. At the start of the school year in 2009, roughly 204 teacher positions were vacant statewide. In 2018, that number swelled to 621, according to the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement.

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Richland 2 currrently has 23.5 classroom vacancies, spokeswoman Ishmael T. Abdus-Saboor said in an email. Richland 1 has 37 teacher vacancies, spokeswoman Karen York said in an email.

“The state is experiencing a remarkable teacher shortage and Richland 2 is no exception to that,” said Stephen Gilchrist, a founder of Richland 2 Black Parents Association. “I think leadership across the state should understand we’re in a vulnerable position with teacher salaries.”

Once inflation is factored in, the average S.C. teacher made $6,700 less in 2018 than in 2004, while the average superintendent made $9,400 more in 2018 than in 2004, according to fact sheets from the S.C. Department of Education.

“The money is not getting into the classroom,” said Lisa Ellis, founder of the education reform group SC for Ed and a Blythewood High School teacher.

That executive pay growth is outpacing worker pay growth is not unique to K-12 education. In 2017, CEOs in America’s largest firms made 271 times the annual average pay of the typical worker, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute.

“Superintendents are paid more primarily because of the market influence,” said Henry Tran, a professor at the University of South Carolina’s College of Education who studies hiring trends in K-12 schools. “The non-education parallel to a superintendent is a CEO.”

Board Chair James Manning said the board increased Davis’ salary because he received an overwhelmingly positive review and was paid less than other superintendents in nearby districts. Davis now has the second-highest salary of all K-12 superintendents in Lexington and Richland counties.

“He’s doing an exemplary job and based on the fact that we don’t want him to potentially leave, we set the salary,” Manning said. “You don’t want to just recruit. You want to retain.”

Research shows it’s common for superintendents and principals to move to other districts because of higher pay, something that can affect classroom performance, Tran said.

“Constant turnover of superintendents can negatively impact the school districts’ consistency of the educational direction, trust, community relations, school/classroom support, institutional memory and management processes,” Tran said in an email. “Because these types of turnover are more prevalent in high poverty and under-performing school districts, higher salaries for retention may be particularly important for superintendents in those contexts.”

In Davis’ annual evaluation, he received a score of 139 out of 150 possible points in key areas such as policy/governance, planning, leadership, management and professionalism, according to a copy of the evaluation obtained by The State. In that review, board members lauded him for his efforts to improve test scores, diversity and implement cultural competency training for students, faculty and staff, according to the evaluation.

Davis did not respond to a request from The State seeking comment.

Manning said he understood why some people could be upset about the disparity between the superintendent’s salary and teacher raises. However, he said, the district has increased teacher pay every year while he has been on the board.

Since Manning was elected in 2010, Richland 2’s average teacher pay has increased from $50,531 to $51,802 (a 2.5% increase) while the average administrator salary increased from $89,337 to $96,193 (a 7.7% increase), according to S.C. Department of Education’s annual district report cards.

Board member Lindsay Agostini, who voted against the raise, which extended Davis’ contract to June 30, 2023, called it “excessive,” and thinks the money could be better spent elsewhere. For example, the district needs more social workers and reading coaches, Agostini said.

“The money that went to the increase in salary could pay (more than) half the salary of a full-time staff position,” Agostini said.

When The State spoke with two board members, James Shadd and Teresa Holmes, who voted in favor of the salary increase, both refused to explain their votes. Holmes said she had “no comment” and Shad referred The State to Manning.

In Richland County’s other school district, Richland 1, the salary trends are also prevalent.

In Richland 1 school district, Superintendent Craig Witherspoon’s salary is $229,582, which is $69,897 more than the average superintendent salary. Given that Richland 1’s average teacher salary is just under $52,000, the district could hire an additional teacher and still afford to pay Witherspoon more than the state average.

The increase in administrative size and pay is not limited to superintendents.

Since Witherspoon took over in 2016, Richland 1 has increased the number of full-time equivalent staff in “supervisory” roles by 17%, while the number of teachers has increased 10 percent, according to the school’s 2018 Consolidated Annual Financial Report.

Though York expressed doubts about the numbers listed on the school’s financial report, the increase in administrative positions was needed to help bolster the school’s choice and alternative programs, York said. Those programs include a $15 million Magnet Schools Assistance Program Grant, the language immersion program, International Baccalaureate programs, volunteer and mentoring programs, “parent and family engagement specialists,” and more, York said.

Some parents, however, feel the money spent on administration could be better spent elsewhere.

“It’s incredibly frustrating to see administrative costs rise while we’re not seeing better results,” said Richland 1 parent Flynn Bowie.

Asked how Richland 1 decided on Witherspoon’s salary, York said it is based primarily on how much other superintendents in similar districts are making.

Since Witherspoon took over, Richland 1’s average teacher pay has increased from $51,328 to $51,985 (a 1.3% increase) while the average administrator salary increased from $87,492 to $92,797 (a 6.1% increase), according to S.C. Department of Education data.

Unlike state agencies, such as the S. C. Department of Health and Environmental Control or the state’s technical college system, local school superintendent salaries are not set by a statewide guideline. Local school boards, comprised of elected officials, are allowed to negotiate a contract with superintendents and dictate pay.

State agencies, in contrast, must follow guidelines set by the Agency Head Salary Commission, which is headed by Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence.

Not all superintendents have accepted the salary increases. Last year, Laurens County School District 55 Superintendent Stephen Peters, who made roughly $132,000 in 2018, declined a 2% raise, according to an article by the Index-Journal in Greenwood.

Superintendent salaries at Midlands school districts

Richland 1, Craig Witherspoon: $229,582

Richland 2, Baron Davis: $222,477

Lexington 1, Greg Little: $209,482

Lexington 2, William James: $168,300

Lexington 3, Stephen Hefner: $170,383

Lexington 4, Robert Maddox: $163,250

Lexington/Richland 5: Christina Melton: $182,000

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