Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Senate proposal would cap superintendent, teacher salaries

By DANIEL OPSOMMER
Capital News Service

LANSING – The Senate may vote to restrict teacher and superintendent salaries as a way to limit administrative costs.

Sen. Bruce Patterson, R-Canton, is the sponsor of a bill that would place a ceiling on teacher and superintendent pay based on legislative and gubernatorial salaries. The proposal is receiving sharp criticism, however.

“I know this is a populist thing – let’s put a cap on executive salaries – but I don’t know of a superintendent in this state living the high life based on the salary they make,” said Bernard Taylor, superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools. “I understand the sentiment, but you would limit the amount of talent that Michigan would be able to attract for public schools.

“If that’s what legislators want to do, then I guess that’s their right,” Taylor said.

Public school employee salaries and benefits account for about 73 percent of Michigan’s total education spending, according to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free market-oriented think tank in Midland.

Brad Biladeau, legislative liaison of the Michigan Association of School Administrators, said “Our concern is that Michigan would lose a lot of qualified superintendents.”

Patterson’s bill would limit teacher’s annual pay to that of a legislator, currently $79,650. Legislators also receive $12,000 annually for expenses which would not be calculated into the cap on teacher salaries.

It would also limit salaries for superintendents to 75 percent of the governor’s salary.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm makes $177,000 annually, which would limit superintendent pay to $132,750 a year.

Salaries for legislators and the governor are slated to drop 10 percent, according to the State Officers Compensation Commission. The pay cuts won’t take effect until after the 2010 election. That would reduce the teacher and superintendent caps if the bill passes.

“This legislation has the potential to force qualified administrators to other states,” Biladeau said. “We’ve already experienced scenarios in Michigan where superintendents have left our state because the pay in other states was much greater.”

The average superintendent salary nationally for 2008-09 was $155,634, while superintendents in the Great Lakes Region averaged $137,817, according to the Educational Research Service in Alexandria, Va. Michigan superintendents were the lowest paid in the region, Biladeau said.

Taylor is one of Michigan’s superintendents who would be heavily hit if Patterson’s proposal passes.

Taylor said he earns about $197,000 a year, and doesn’t receive the perks that come with the governor’s office.

“This is such a narrow view of looking at someone’s compensation,” Taylor said of the bill. “You need to look at the total compensation the governor receives because this is comparing apples to oranges.”

Other Michigan superintendents earning above the state average include: Brian Davis of Holland Public Schools, $163,692; James Feil of Traverse City Public Schools, $165,426; Ronald Caniff of Grandville Public Schools, $152,012; and Gary Feenstra of Zeeland Public Schools, $175,194, according to the districts.

Researchers for Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning in Denver say that effective superintendents focus on creating goal-oriented districts and superintendent tenure correlates with student achievement.

Taylor said, “If Michigan wants to make our state a place where people would be reluctant to come because their salary would not be competitive, then that’s what this initiative will do. It will make Michigan a place where beginners or someone on the downside of their career will come because they’re trying to gain experience or be a placeholder.”

Biladeau said that if superintendents’ salaries were capped at $119,475 a year, it would affect more than 80 percent of the state’s superintendents.

“In a time when schools districts are making severe cuts, we need to have experienced administrators at the forefront, and legislation like this will leave our schools without experienced leadership in a time when it’s so desperately needed,” Biladeau said.

The bill would not affect salaries under existing contracts, Biladeau said.

Taylor said that maintaining competitive salaries is essential so districts can retain qualified administrators.

“Given the current circumstances that any superintendent in Michigan faces, anyone in the middle of their career, anyone with any depth, is not going to come here because the salary is not going to be sufficient to attract the highest caliber candidate.”

Patterson’s bill is pending in the Senate Education Committee.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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