Picture yourself as the target of criticism from educators, staff, parents, members of the public and the school board.
Picture trying to squeeze out a multi-million-dollar budget that is acceptable to all those groups while meeting a state-imposed tax-levy cap?
Imagine having to know all the latest regulations and trends in education and figure out how to get everything properly implemented.
Welcome to the life of a school superintendent. When you look at the six-figure salaries paid to school leaders in our area — as detailed in a Press-Republican series this week — it may be hard to muster much sympathy. The pay scale for superintendents is certainly far better than that of most people who live in the North Country. But if you don’t think they are earning it, you probably haven’t spent much time around a school in the past decade.
Like it or not, the going rate for superintendents in New York state has been rising with the demands of the job; the average annual salary is now $166,000.
And even at that, fewer people want the job. The series, reported by Ashleigh Livingston, Denise Raymo, Kim Smith Dedam and Suzanne Moore, shows that vacancies in this region are hard to fill, with the candidate pools much smaller than in years past. If superintendents were paid much less in this area than elsewhere, why would quality candidates even consider jobs here?
The education of our children and the handling of our money are two vitally important jobs, and they must be entrusted to people who are capable, intelligent, creative and willing to put in long hours.
If you are the school superintendent, someone is always angry with you. Parents expect you to be at every school function and gripe if they don’t see you. Teachers question whether you are supportive enough of their agenda. The taxpayers always think you are spending too much — until you cut the program they have an interest in.
You are never off duty, especially not in small, rural districts like ours where everyone in town knows who you are.
This school year brought new challenges: a state-mandated teacher-evaluation system, the implementation of national curriculum mandates and the start of a revolt against unpopular standardized tests. The evaluation mandate alone requires that administrators spend hours in the classroom observing teacher performance.
All this is not to suggest that the public should give superintendents free rein. It is important that we study their decisions and, when warranted, call them out on questionable actions.
As for superintendents, they must show effective leadership, and that means seeking input from all stakeholders of the school community, assembling a strong team and operating in an open environment that gives the public access to all information affecting decisions.