Cynthia Juedemann
We have a desk stacked with 324 superintendent contracts. Quite a few superintendents have asked Audrey and me just what we're doing with those contracts. It's a fair question, and one we haven't completely addressed for our readers.

We've said that we're looking beyond salary, and that our purpose is research, not advocacy. Now, let's talk about what our research includes.

I can't speak for Audrey, but for me, at least, sketching out superintendent compensation for Missouri citizens is important not because it allows me or the Show-Me Institute to say we should change this or that to improve public education, but because it allows Missourians to see where their tax dollars are going. And it allows them to make judgments about how their money is being spent, apart from what I or SMI might think.

We've requested contracts from every Missouri superintendent, and we've received more than half. While we're waiting for the remaining 200, we've begun entering the contract information into a spreadsheet. In all honesty, it's a judgment call — what gets coded, what doesn't, or how to compare benefits across contracts when they're often not entirely comparable.

For the sake of increasing public information, I'd rather be more thorough than overlook something important.

After careful consideration, we came up with the following headings.

Enrollment, as of 2007: A superintendent in charge of a district with more students might pull more pay than one with fewer students.

The Tax Levy: How much is the district asking of its taxpayers, and how much have they agreed to give?

Percentage of Students Eligible for Free or Reduced-Price Lunch: This is a proxy for wealth of the district. As Audrey discussed earlier, that can play a big role in superintendent compensation.

Contract Year: Our request includes the first employment contract under which the superintendent was hired, as well as any changes in salary or benefits during his employment. This lets us see how quickly pay rises, and when extra benefits are added.

Number of Years With the District: Compensation may increase with experience.

Salary:The biggie, but by no means the only form of compensation. It is the easiest base of comparison across superintendents.

But the benefit boost can add thousands of dollars to a salary, so we account for benefits, too — annuities; life, disability, health, dental and vision insurance; retirement; membership dues and meeting costs for professional organizations; travel allowances; cell phones; sick leave; personal leave; vacation.

We also note whether the district provides for evaluation of the superintendent, the superintendent's gender, and whether or not the superintendent has an advanced degree. We finish up with any notes concerning oddities in the contracts.

This should allow us to draw some pretty thorough comparisons across Missouri school districts. More importantly, it will allow us to paint an overall picture of superintendent compensation in the state. Do superintendents make too much, too little, or the right amount?

Well, that's a judgment call I hope Missouri citizens will make with this information.

Our list of headings is by no means finalized; we're still deciding on categories to explore. If you have any suggestions about what we should consider, please leave a comment below or email me.

About the Author

Cynthia Juedemann