Indiana superintendent salaries are attracting plenty of attention these days. Here's The Journal Gazette's editorial take on the subject.
Jeff Abbott, former superintendent of East Allen County Schools, also weighed in on the subject, in a column published in the News-Sentinel for the right-leaning Indiana Policy Review. His article is mostly a defense of the generous contracts, based on the tough job school superintendents face. I would agree wholeheartedly with his assertion that the demands are great, particularly for superintendents in large, diverse districts. But where Abbott's piece falls short is in the disclosure category. He writes:
Public school superintendents are greedy, selfish, overpaid, a big waste of taxpayer dollars — or so popular thought goes. Such perceptions are fueled by news reports of superintendent compensation packages, retirement packages and contract buyouts.
The Philadelphia School District this fall bought out its superintendent's contract for $905,000. And closer to home, an Indianapolis-area superintendent retired this year with a $1 million retirement package (but a few weeks after retirement decided to forego $200,000 of the retirement pay). Another Indianapolis-area superintendent a few years ago settled a contract buyout dispute by accepting a settlement of $470,000. A Fort Wayne-area superintendent received a retirement package of $495,000 a few years ago.
That Fort Wayne-area superintendent? That was Abbott. The East Allen school board signed a separation agreement in 2005 that paid him $495,853 in base salary, plus $173,253 to satisfy the deferred compensation obligations in his contract. He left EACS with $669,106. Abbott's health insurance coverage with the district remained; with his wife as primary plan member. She continued as an East Allen principal through the last school year.
The sticker shock Indiana taxpayers and lawmakers seem to be having over superintendent compensation packages has a lot to do with the fact that the contracts – like Abbott's at East Allen – haven't been adequately reported. Rather than publicly justifying the salaries required, school boards have supported the secretive environment surrounding the contracts. When it comes to reporting on the topic, newspapers have failed in their watchdog role.
The results are found in the bloated, back-loaded contracts that seem to shock and appall the very officials responsible for them.