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Auditor’s report finds school superintendents’ pay increases outpacing teachers

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri’s top public school leaders are getting larger salary bumps than the teachers they’re overseeing, according to an audit from state auditor Nicole Galloway.

The audit released Monday found a large gap in the pay range of superintendents which is not always based on district size. Overall, superintendent pay is up 31 percent from 12 years ago, according to the auditor. During that same time, teacher salaries increased 22 percent.

The finding adds weight to Republican Gov. Eric Greitens’ arguments that public school administrators are overpaid. That was a key point behind his motivations for having education commissioner Margie Vandeven ousted last week.

Greitens is a proponent of “school choice” measures such as charter school expansion and public assistance for students to attend private schools. Galloway’s audit, however, finds charter schools are spending a larger percentage of their budgets on administrators compared to traditional districts.

Some key findings:

  • Superintendent pay ranges from $55,000 for the state’s smallest districts to $276,286 in a district with more than 5,000 students
  • Administrative spending per pupil rose at a faster rate than instructional spending per student over a five-year period ending in 2016
  • Many districts that spend more on administrative pay earned student proficiency assessment scores lower than districts that spend less on leadership
  • Per student spending on instruction at traditional districts increased 9 percent and administrative spending 14 percent over a five-year period. During that same time, at charter schools, instruction spending per student decreased by 1 percent and administration spending increased by 18 percent

The group that represents Missouri’s superintendents said the statistics on salary increases are misleading because teaching positions were cut during the recession and are only now rebounding.
Unlike superintendents, said Mike Lodewegen of the Missouri Association of School Administrators, teacher pay is on a schedule and will go up over time.

Pay for the stagnant number of superintendents in the state is market-driven, Lodewegen said. “The good administrators are going to be able to leverage that for more money,” he said.

The audit also does not take into account benefits for teachers, such as health care, Lodewegen said.

Doug Thaman, executive director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association, said the auditor's conclusions are "unfair" and based on too much missing data.

Thaman said charter school teachers are paid less because they're usually younger and the average administrator salary for charters, at about $91,000, is less than the top district superintendent pay.

"The report leaves an inaccurate impression that charter schools are not adequately serving their students," Thaman said in a statement.

Galloway recommends the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which oversees public education in the state, do a better job of tracking how districts spend on public education.

A spokeswoman for the state’s education department didn’t respond to a request for comments but the department provided feedback in the audit. It says it’s working to improve tracking and data reporting of school spending through its public data portal and school improvement initiatives.

There are 518 school districts across Missouri and 39 charters within St. Louis and Kansas City. Missouri spends an average of $11,293 per student, slightly below the national average of $12,335.

The audit is based on site visits to five traditional districts and two charter schools, as well as interviews with officials at seven schools. The auditor’s office sent surveys to the other districts in the state and said it received a response from 97 percent of them.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.