- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2000

The push of local politics and the pull of a booming economy have helped create a national shortage of candidates willing and able to take on the responsibilities of school superintendents, education experts say.
"There is no shortage of people with the paper credentials," said Paul Houston, executive director of the Arlington, Va.-based American Association of School Administrators. "There is a shortage of people who want the job. It has clearly become unattractive."
Consequently, school systems seeking to hire the best superintendents have offered them more and more money while also trying to entice teachers and principals among a shrinking pool of applicants.
Locally, the situation has spurred high turnover among school systems: None of the region's six superintendents has been at their current jobs for more than five years.
Moreover, the superintendents' salaries have climbed to heights previously reserved for the captains of private industry, top-flight lawyers or professional athletes.
In Montgomery County, Md., for example, Superintendent Jerry D. Weast earns $237,000 a year the highest for any schools chief in the area and $37,000 more than President Clinton.
Beginning July 1, Fairfax County, Va., Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech will earn $205,000 a year.
Most local principals earn about $80,000, on average; most teachers, about $40,000.
Education experts account for the disparity between the salaries of superintendents, on the one hand, and of principals and teachers, on the other, by pointing out that many educators do not want to lead school systems.
Where a superintendent vacancy used to receive 40 applications, it now receives only 10, Mr. Houston said.
"Being a superintendent is more an avocation than a job," Mr. Domench said.
Having to deal with politically charged school boards and county councils has discouraged many educators in small districts from applying for superintendent jobs, especially large urban ones, school officials said.
Retired Gen. Julius W. Becton Jr. stepped down as head of the District of Columbia schools in June 1998 after 19 months of being unable to repair school roofs and boilers amid battles with the school board and D.C. Council. He was replaced by Arlene C. Ackerman, who earns $150,000 annually.
"I'm tired physically, emotionally and mentally," Gen. Becton said in announcing his resignation. "It's been the toughest job I ever had."
Gen. Becton also embodied a growing trend among school officials to look outside the world of education to find managers of various experience to lead school systems, especially troubled ones like the District's.
On average, most superintendents of urban and large suburban systems (who often work 12 to 14 hours a day, six or seven days a week) remain at their jobs for two to three years before moving on, said Bruce Cooper, a professor and researcher at Fordham University in New York.
Superintendents of smaller systems remain on the job for about seven years, he said.
Last year, Mr. Cooper surveyed about 1,800 school superintendents. Among his findings: 91 percent found satisfaction in their jobs, 88 percent said the shortage of superintendent applicants is a serious crisis and 65 percent would recommend being a superintendent as a meaningful and satisfying career.
"I was shocked and upset at the results," said Mr. Cooper. "I knew that there was turnover, but I had always thought they were well-paid and that people were lining up for these jobs. I was wrong."
Meanwhile, a plethora of high-paying jobs in a variety of fields, especially the high-tech industry, has lured likely candidates from considering jobs as superintendents, experts said.
Salary and portability of pensions are two big deterrents. Nationally, most superintendents tend to earn only a few thousand dollars more a year than top principals. Superintendents cannot move their pensions from one state to another.
Job security is also a deterrent. Superintendents are not tenured employees and can be fired at any time.
For instance, Prince George's, Md., Superintendent Iris T. Metts, who was hired last summer, will earn thousands of dollars as a bonus to her $160,000 base salary if she raises scores on state tests and increases the number of certified teachers.
But if she doesn't meet specified performance targets, the school board can fire her without having to buy out her contract, saving the system thousands of dollars.
Superintendents often complain that they are held accountable for reform but don't have the authority to implement reform amid skyrocketing enrollments, mandated state learning standards and pressures to increase test scores.

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