By: Owen Stroud

The number of Texas school district superintendents with six-figure salaries has reached an all-time high. For the past two years, school districts statewide have taken a few steps to slash appropriations and eliminate jobs in the face of state budget shortfalls, yet their superintendent salaries have risen substantially. In five years, the number of school employees making more than $100,000 a year has increased 78 percent , doubling the rate of enrollment and budget. Though much of this is the result of 3 percent increases that sent high salaries just over the six-figure mark, the very increases are questionable.

Why this increase for administrative salaries? Superintendents like Bret Champion of Leander have argued that school districts must offer competitive salaries. Since school districts require strong administrative leadership and extensive responsibility, he says, they must compete to attract skillful administrators from both educational and corporate environments.

But this is some severely expensive competition.

Essentially, school boards across the state are taking more money from taxpayers just to boost district appeal. And what’s that about extensive administrative responsibility? The highest-paid superintendents in Texas don’t even always manage the largest districts, nor does their presence necessarily guarantee anything higher than an “Acceptable” rating.

Figures from 2011-12 reveal that 48 percent of Texas superintendents earned six-figure salaries in the 2011-12 school year, but only 8.44 percent (104 of 1232) of districts or charter schools have more than 10,000 students. Superintending may not be a cakewalk, but given the size of most districts/schools in the state, must the job necessitate a $100,000+ salary 48 percent of the time? This isn’t even to mention the probability that many superintendents making a few thousand less might still be overpaid (as in the extreme case of the San Vincente ISD).

This illustrates the priority reversal rampant in Texas school districts. Should a district focus on attracting the best executives for the system, or should it prioritize the education of its students? Spending cuts are being made in the wrong places. Districts are so habitually obsessed with hiring new administrators, constructing more schools, and pouring money into snazzier features that they neglect the essentials of education.

What makes a well-educated person? In a time that necessitates fiscal prudence more than ever before, this is the most critical question every administrator must ask. Is education accomplished by throwing more money at superintendents, at new buildings, at new programs? Is it improved by enhancing the slick performance of the system? Is it achieved by increasing competition for the best teachers? Is education found in the method or the money?

Texas school districts must take a reality check on their priorities. Expanding the superintendents’ wallets with taxpayer money while slashing teaching positions does nothing for the cause of education. Instead, it advertises the district as a competitive business instead of a competent educational institution. Education merely becomes a wishful expectation from the irresponsible distribution of money, and the teachers and students of Texas are left in the dust.