Super Pay for Superintendents

Article excerpt

Byline: Catherine Edman

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CORRECTION/date 11-11-2007: To correct a report in Nov. 4 editions, the superintendent compensation package in DuPage High School District 88 was $230,259 in 2005-06, not $249,864. The district had supplied erroneous information.

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cedman@@dailyherald.com

Running a public school system pays well.

Compensation for suburban school chiefs in the 2005-06 school year ranged from $121,565 to $394,995.

Among the 94 suburban districts surveyed by the Daily Herald, the average superintendent pay package was $198,732.

Besides base salary, the pay packages included some combination of bonuses, stipends, annuities, auto allowance, reimbursement for unused sick and vacation days, and payments to post-retirement health and pension plans.

And that doesn't include what the districts pay for their leaders' health, dental and life insurance coverage.

How much a superintendent makes depends on a variety of factors, from experience, to the size of the district, to the elected officials who make up school boards.

When announcing a new hire or a contract extension, boards often point to prevailing market conditions. It takes top dollar to get the best people, they argue.

A competitive market requires a competitive salary, they say, and children's futures are the leverage.

Our analysis finds, however, job experience isn't the biggest factor in determining compensation. Neither is size of the district.

The biggest factor in determining the big-ticket salaries that drive up the average? Retirement.

Many superintendents have included in their contracts clauses that bump their salaries by as much as 20 percent in each of the final three years before retirement.

Though the state legislature changed the pension law that allowed for those hikes, contracts in place at the time were grandfathered in. And those folks still are working their way through the system.

The remainder pick from a panoply of perks to compensate for the change.

Retirement boost

Gary Catalani walked away from his job in the public sector at the top of the heap. In 2005-06, a year before he retired from Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200, his pay package was $394,995.

That included his $306,000 salary, a $12,000 annuity, $26,485 for unused vacation days, an auto allowance and payments into the state's pension system on his behalf.

On top of the $394,995 came more taxpayer-borne costs - for health, dental, life and disability insurance.

Just two years earlier, his annual compensation was $232,511, according to data supplied to the Teachers Retirement System. The $150,000-plus jump was part of the preretirement pay padding aimed at boosting pension payments.

The day he left his job, Catalani, then 56, was eligible to collect a pension that would pay $214,248 in the first year, and increase at least 3 percent each year until the day he dies.

Close on his heels was Mary Curley, whose $334,708 package in Hinsdale Elementary District 181 included a $249,600 base salary, $21,761 annuity, $10,000 bonus, $9,600 in unused vacation pay, auto allowance and payments to the state's pension system.

When she retired at 55, she began collecting a pension that started at $185,187. That's more than she made in a year three years before she retired, when her compensation was $178,261.

The superintendent who perhaps has drawn the most fire recently, though, is Elgin Area School District U-46 Superintendent Connie Neale, who in January received a controversial $60,000 pay hike and bonus.

In 2005-06, Neale had the third-highest pay package in the region at $323,288, which included a $44,688 annuity and $21,000 additional payment to the retirement system.

January's increase pushed Neale's compensation package for 2006- 07 past $410,000. …