Press-Republican

May 5, 2013

School superintendents talk job duties, salaries

By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON Press-Republican
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — On a typical day, Malone Central School Superintendent Wayne Walbridge reports to work between 5:30 and 6 a.m.

And while he may depart around 4:15 p.m., rarely does that mark the end of his workday. 

School Board meetings and other events held at one of his district’s five school buildings take up a number of his evenings.

Still, Walbridge, who has served as a district leader for 15 years, feels the biggest public misconception about public-school superintendents is that they have little to do and, as a result, don’t have to work hard for their six-figure salaries.

“I sense that, at times, some people from the public merely view us as figureheads of a school system that function in a ‘hands-off’ mode,” said the superintendent, who received annual compensation of $156,140 in 2011-12. 

“This is not the reality.”

ALWAYS ON THE JOB

District leaders work an average of 55 to 65 hours a week, according to Plattsburgh City School Superintendent James “Jake” Short.

Though, he noted, they are “never truly off duty.”

“A superintendent of schools is always on the job, whether you are at school, in the community or at home,” Walbridge said. “You serve the public at their wishes if they approach you on a school-related matter in a respectful manner.”

Just some of the contractual responsibilities Walbridge and other district leaders shoulder include overseeing district administrators and non-instructional and instructional personnel; recommending to the School Board the appointment or termination of district employees; keeping the board informed of all matters related to curriculum, assessment, instruction and personnel; and authorizing all budget transfers.

“Many times, superintendents are compared to business executives, since we oversee multi-million-dollar operations,” said Short, who has served as a school superintendent for 14 years and received annual compensation of $175,382 in 2011-12.

“Yet, unlike private business executives, superintendents are not expected to produce a profit ... but they are expected to lead under much more complex circumstances and with more public scrutiny than found in most businesses.”

“As a superintendent, I am accountable to an elected board of education, the governor, legislature and state comptroller, the State Education Department and other regulatory agencies, hundreds of parents and thousands of taxpayers.”

HUNDREDS OF EMPLOYEES

Walbridge said he also feels it is his duty to be visible in district classrooms, so he conducts numerous observations of teachers and teaching assistants throughout the year and supervises high-school students for a minimum of 30 minutes per day.

The Malone Central superintendent also conducts Annual Professional Performance Reviews of district administrators.

“The salary that I receive, in my opinion, is appropriate, given my 15 years of experience as a superintendent of schools, coupled with the fact that we have a rather large rural school student population of 2,250 students, a staff of around 500 to supervise and a budget of a little over $44 million to manage along with the business administrator, the Board of Education and other administrators,” Walbridge said.

“Ironically enough, my salary is in the average range statewide for a school district our size, so I feel very fortunate to be compensated as well as I am in a rather high-needs rural school district, such as Malone (Central).”

Similarly, Beekmantown Central School Superintendent Scott Amo said that, as CEO of his district, he must oversee its nearly $38 million budget and hundreds of staff members and students.

“Every single day, you’re responsible for the lives of every single one of those people,” he said.

Short also noted that his salary is comparable to that of superintendents with his years of experience in similar-sized districts across the state.

AVERAGE PAY: $166,000

According to Robert Reidy Jr., Ph.D., who is executive director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, the average salary for district leaders in this state is about $166,000.

And for the past three years, he said, pay for the position has remained relatively flat.

Amo, who has served as a superintendent for nine years and received annual compensation of $165,407 in 2011-12, added that a district leader’s pay “doesn’t come close to what the private sectors will bear.”

Keene Central School Interim Superintendent Cynthia Ford-Johnston agreed, noting that school districts are often the largest employers of people in their towns, as is the case with her district.

“A superintendent is a CEO of a company, and in the private sector, a CEO of a major business in a town would expect to be paid more than even a superintendent would,” she said.

Though Ford-Johnston retired from her post as KCSD leader last June after 16 years of service to the district, she returned to the school as part-time interim superintendent this school year.

Before her retirement, however, Ford-Johnston served simultaneously as the district’s superintendent, business manager and only principal. For that, she received an annual compensation of $154,028 in 2011-12.

Doing so, she said, required putting in an average of 60 to 70 work hours a week, as well as being on call 24 hours a day “for everything under the sun.”

INTEGRITY

Superintendent salaries, Amo noted, are negotiated with the School Board and are based on the skills a district leader brings to the table and what the board is willing to pay for his or her services.

Ticonderoga Central School Board President Frederick LaVallie, who has served on his board for 13 years, believes his school’s community understands that in order to have a qualified person at the district’s helm, adequate compensation must be offered.

“I’ve never had anyone question our salaries of our superintendents,” he said.

However, Ticonderoga Central Superintendent John McDonald, who received annual compensation of $131,000 in 2011-12, has not received a salary increase in several years, according to LaVallie.

“Because of our issues with our budget, he has taken a voluntary freeze,” he said.

Still, LaVallie noted, had the district been in a better fiscal situation, it would have given McDonald more money, as he has done his job well and met the board’s expectations, including working toward a doctoral degree.

“We expect our superintendent to not just be an administrator in the district but one of high integrity that interfaces with a lot of different people,” the School Board president said.

SENSITIVE MATTERS

Meeting others’ expectations and fulfilling daily work duties are no easy tasks, according to area superintendents.

“It’s very stressful,” Amo said of his job. There’s “no question about that.

“You never know — the next phone call could be an emergency situation involving a student.”

For Walbridge, the most stressful part of the job is having to handle personnel matters that may require the termination of a district employee.

“Handling sensitive staff matters can be very emotional and draining on a superintendent,” he said.

But no matter how stressful the job may get, Amo noted, a superintendent must maintain professional composure in order to instill confidence in others.

Another inevitable part of the gig, according to district leaders, is personal sacrifice.

“I have missed many school and social events involving my children and spouse given the enormous responsibilities of being a superintendent,” Walbridge said.

‘A WAY OF LIFE’

Amo noted it’s not uncommon for him and his wife, Stafford Middle School Principal Patricia Amo, to have their first face-to-face interaction of the day quite late in the evening.

And given their limited free time, he added, the couple must be careful about making social commitments and planning recreational activities.

In fact, Ford-Johnson said, the responsibilities and amount of time associated with being a superintendent actually influenced her decision to not have children.

“Serving as a superintendent is not just a job; it is a way of life,” Short said.

While many educators enjoy summers off, district leaders are called on to tend to such things as board and staff meetings, building projects and kindergarten registration when school isn’t in session.

“It’s extremely rare that we get a chunk of (vacation) time,” Amo said.

Although, he noted, the summer months are a bit more relaxed.

“I don’t wear the tie in the summertime, but it’s pretty much a standard workday,” he said.

Still, he added, “none of us goes into these assignments blind to the extra commitments.

“You get into education for the simple purpose of serving others.”

Email Ashleigh Livingston:alivingston@pressrepublican.com