Should School Superintendents Earn More Than Obama?

Syosset, New York, superintendent Carole Hankin rakes in over $500,000 per year. Where do we draw the line on school district compensation?

With teacher pay and benefits coming under increasing scrutiny, it was only a matter of time till the salary of school district higher-ups also came under fire—especially when some superintendents are pulling down more in salary and benefits than the President of the United States. Case in point: New York's Syosset Central High School District Superintendent Dr. Carole Hankin rakes in $506,322 in total compensation to oversee 10 schools serving 6,687 students. In comparison, President Obama only gets $400,000 in salary—and he's running an entire nation.

Hankin also makes more than New York City Chancellor Cathie Black, who oversees 1.1 million students at 1,600 schools. Clearly, Black does far more work, but she's only getting $250,000 in salary plus benefits and a driver. Hankin's, as well as other high-salaried school district heads' take-home pay, has drawn the attention of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. He's proposing capping salaries for superintendents outside New York City at $179,000.

Some of Syosset's wealthy families—in 2009, the town had a median income of $128,744—agree with Cuomo and say Hankin's compensation is out of control. Resident Malvin Tarkin told the New York Post, "Her salary is way, way out of whack. She lives like a queen."

Whether she's living like a queen or not, there's no arguing that Syosset's schools are good. They win awards and regularly appear on lists of the best schools in the nation, meaning Hankin, who's had the job for 21 years, is doing something right. And, even though schools aren't businesses, a superinten­dent is the equivalent of a CEO. If she were running a $188.8 million business, would we even bat an eye at her salary?

That said, it does seem bizarre for her to be earning more than either Obama and Black. The uproar over her salary raises the question, how do we decide what's a fair salary for a public employee? And, if Cuomo's salary cap goes through, will that make it harder for districts to attract and retain high-quality superintendents?

photo (cc) via Wikimedia Commons

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