A Missouri think tank has put together a study that shows public school superintendents’ salaries aren’t necessarly linked to student performance.

The Show Me Institute is a free market think tank that suggests changes to public policy in efforts to benefit Missourians. Spokeswoman Audrey Spalding says the group has compared superintendent contracts with salary information from school districts throughout the state.

Spalding says the study shows urban areas pay their superintendents an average of 12 percent more than rural districts.

The highest paid superintendent salary is in St. Louis City at 225 thousand dollars. The lowest paid is in Gasconade County at 55 thousand. Spalding says some pay much less than that simply because it’s not a full time position.

She says Missourians spend nearly $50 million on school superintendents each year, not counting costs other than salary, such as health benefits, annuities, and car allowances.

She says in the survey of superintendent contracts, out of more than 500 districts throughout the state, more than 450 responded. They got the salary information from the Department of Elementary and Secondary education.

“Though the paper digs into the specifics of certain superintendents’ compensation, the findings are general, and apply to all Missouri public school districts,” Spalding said. “School superintendents act as the CEOs of their districts, and are extremely influential. In fact, according to a national survey, nearly 90 percent of superintendents reported that their school boards accepted their recommendations 90 percent to 100 percent of the time. Meanwhile, one of the main tasks for school board members is to hire and manage the school superintendent. One of the documents that indicates how a school board is managing its superintendent is the superintendent’s employment contract. There, the school board lays out the responsibilities, compensation, and future expectations of the superintendent.”

The study shows 12 percent of school boards appear to award future salary amounts to superintendents automatically.

“That is, superintendent contracts can include not only the salary for the current year, but also often stipulate future substantial salary increases,” she said. “Another 10 percent receive salary increases based on the district’s teacher salary schedule. It is telling that school boards are awarding pay increases to superintendents with no knowledge of their district’s future budget situation or their superintendent’s future performance.”

Additionally, Spalding added, superintendents oversee school district budgets, which together total more than $8 billion (the total of public school expenditures in Missouri in 2009, not including charter schools).

“We should take an interest in how these managers are paid, and how school boards manage them,” she said. “For example, many superintendents were awarded the exact same percentage raise as that awarded to teachers. Thinking about the incentives, we would expect higher salary expenditures in a school district managed by a leader who knew his raise was tied to whatever raise was awarded to the employees he managed. Is this really the best way for a school board to reward its superintendent?”

The Show Me Institute has posted all the underlying contract documents and salary data online for anyone to compare the salary and structure of their superintendent’s compensation to that in other districts.

For more about the Show Me Institute, visit www.showmeinstitute.org

Jessica Machetta reports [Download / listen Mp3]