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The Highest Paid Superintendents in RI

Thursday, January 23, 2014


The 36 school superintendents in Rhode Island are earning more than $4.6 million this year, with a typical salary running at about $145,000, according to new state data.

“That’s a hefty burden for our school districts to carry. Is any connection made by the district between student achievement and superintendent’s compensation?” said Monique Chartier, spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Taxpayers group.

At the city or town level, school superintendents are the highest paid public employees according to the data, which was released as part of the annual Municipal Salary Survey. Their income is also above the national median for a school superintendent, which is $125,096, according to the most recently available data from the School Superintendents Association, a national organization. (For a complete breakdown of how much superintendents make see below slides.)

How does Rhode Island compare?

However, when salaries are compared on the basis of school district size, the picture becomes more complicated: some local superintendents earn more than what is typical while others are in line with national trends or even lagging them.

Superintendents for school districts with 10,000 to 24,999 students make $164,376, according to the national data, which is for the 2007-2008 school year. In order to provide a fair comparison, GoLocalProv checked the 2008 figures for Rhode Island superintendents for the two local school districts that are that large: Providence and Cranston. The Providence superintendent earned more than the median, with a salary of $190,000, while the head of schools in Cranston was below it, at 141,483 that year.

In 2013, the current Providence superintendent, Susan Lusi, was paid the same as her predecessor five years ago, while her Cranston counterpart was about $4,000 higher—still below the median.

Eighteen Rhode Island school districts fall into the next bracket, with student bodies ranging from 2,500 to 9,999. Nationally, a superintendent for a district that size earned $146,402. Five of the 18 Rhode Island superintendents earned more than that. The rest were below.

The greatest disparity between Rhode Island superintendents and their national peers is at the smallest school districts, with enrollments of less than 2,500. There, the national median is $108,218. But most of the full-time Rhode Island superintendents in the smaller districts surveyed by state officials were at least $10,000 above that.

“Education dollars are precious. It is not at all clear in the context of either student achievement or district size that students and taxpayers are receiving sufficient value for the dollars reflected in GoLocalProv’s listing,” Chartier said.

Another basis for comparing superintendent salaries is by region, which takes into account factors like cost of living, which might be higher in the Northeast than it might be in other areas. On that basis, Rhode Island superintendents are in line with their peers in New England, who typically earn $135,180. In Rhode Island the median was $135,165 (excluding part-time superintendents and Foster and Glocester, because of insufficient state data.)

Superintendents earn more than mayors

Perhaps more striking is the contrast between superintendent salaries and those for other local public officials. In 2013, the median salary for a municipal mayor, manager, or administrator was $100,470, according to the state data—about $45,000 less than the median for superintendents.

The heads of local school departments also earn well above what other department leaders earn in Rhode Island. For example, most police chiefs earn between $69,000 and $95,000. Only eight earn $100,000 or more. But their salaries are still lower than every single full-time superintendent, with one exception: the Providence police chief, who earned $147,653, according to the data.

A number of factors explain—and justify—the higher salaries for superintendents, according to the heads of the state associations for superintendents and school committees. For one thing, superintendents usually need an advanced degree, like a doctorate in education, to qualify for the position, according to Tim Duffy, the executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees.

They also must wear many hats. “You’re asking the superintendent to be not only the instructional leader for the district but also the business leader for the district,” Duffy said.

Superintendents also bear responsibility for the safety and welfare for every student in their district, added Tim Ryan, the executive director of the Rhode Island School Superintendents Association and himself a former superintendent in Portsmouth and North Providence. And the burden has only grown in recent years as budget cuts have thinned the ranks of assistant superintendents available to help them, Ryan said.

The job is also an enormously complex one, requiring knowledge of the numerous federal and state laws affecting public education, according to Ryan.

“It is unique,” Ryan said.

Yet another more factor: the need to offer attractive salaries and benefits in a competitive regional market for superintendents. “It’s very easy for superintendents to pick up and leave,” Duffy said.

A school superintendent is not just another department head, Duffy said. Often, the school department is the largest employer in a city or town. In Providence, for example, the teaching staff is roughly four to five times the size of the police force.

Superintendents are also not easily comparable to municipal managers, Ryan said. “Typically, a town manager or administrator has a number of major department heads,” he said. Those department heads function more independently than a school principal, who might be under more supervision from a superintendent, according to Ryan.

Ultimately, Ryan and Duff say the issue may not be how much superintendents are paid, but how little municipal managers earn. “I think that they’re largely underpaid,” Duffy said.

Does consolidation save money?

Some taxpayer advocates have argued that Rhode Island’s school system is top heavy, with 36 superintendents far too many for such a small state. The proposed solution is consolidation of school districts.

But Duffy disputes claims that Rhode Island has too many administrators. He provided a report from the National Center for Education Statistics showing that Rhode Island had an administrative support staff to student ratio of 1 to 269.7 for the 2009-2010 school year, the latest available. The national average was one administrative employee per 211.6 students. Seven states had higher ratios than Rhode Island.

Duffy also noted that Rhode Island has a teacher staff to student ratio of one to 12.8, lower than the national average of 15.4. Just seven states were even lower than Rhode Island. “Clearly [Rhode Island] has invested more in class room teachers than administrators. Some critics complain that we have too many administrators, but the numbers do not bear this out,” Duffy said.

Besides being unnecessary, Duffy suggests that school district consolidation also is not politically viable. He’s says the tradition of neighborhood schools in New England stirs local opposition to consolidation and regionalization efforts.

Even in Foster and Glocester, where the middle and high schools have been merged into one district, voters have rejected a plan to complete the consolidation with the elementary schools. The lesson: “Consolidation is a good idea as long as you start with the other guy,” Duffy said.

Union leader: Where’s the shared sacrifice?

One statewide labor leader does not question whether superintendents deserve the salaries they get. Instead, Michael Downey, the president of the AFSCME Council 94, says the issue is how cuts in salaries and benefits are spread throughout local budgets—particularly as many of the teacher aides, custodians, secretaries and other school staff he represents have had to pay more for benefits while their incomes have stagnated or been reduced.

“Those at the higher end of the salary structure don’t seem to be sacrificing as much as those at the lower end,” Downey said. “The shared sacrifice is just for us.”

Stephen Beale can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @bealenews


Related Slideshow: Rhode Island School Superintendent Salaries

Below are the salaries of school superintendents in Rhode Island, starting with the lowest paid. Data is for 2013 and was provided by the state Division of Municipal Finance. Where relevant, longevity pay is also listed. All school superintendents are listed except those in the independent school districts in Foster and Glocester. The combined Foster-Glocester district is included. In order to provide a more informed basis for comparing superintendents from one community to another, the annual student enrollment and total expenditures are also listed. (The data is for fiscal year 2012, the latest available from the state Department of Education.)

Prev Next

34. New Shoreham

Superintendent Robert Hicks

Salary: $45,280

District Profile

Student Body Size: 112

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $4,443,923

Note: Position is part-time.

Prev Next

33. Little Compton

Superintendent Kathryn M. Crowley

Salary: $63,500

District Profile

Student Body Size: 295

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $6,995,203

Note: Position is part-time.

Prev Next

32. Jamestown

Superintendent Marcia Lukon

Salary: $67,039

District Profile

Student Body Size: 481

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $12,049,735

Note: Position is part-time.

Prev Next

31. Johnston

Superintendent Bernard DiLullo, Jr.

Salary: $121,456

Longevity Pay: $2,000

District Profile

Student Body Size: 2,917

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $50,452,203

Salary includes longevity pay.

Prev Next

30. Tiverton

Superintendent William J. Rearick

Salary: $125,032

District Profile

Student Body Size: 1,738

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $28,715,478

Prev Next

29. North Providence

Superintendent Melinda Smith

Salary: $127,600

District Profile

Student Body Size: 3,301

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $47,235,638

Prev Next

28. North Smithfield

Superintendent Stephen Lindberg

Salary: $129,854

District Profile

Student Body Size: 1,704

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $23,498,113

Prev Next

27. Portsmouth

Superintendent Lynn Krizic

Salary: $132,000

District Profile

Student Body Size: 2,590

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $36,591,167

Prev Next

26. West Warwick

Superintendent Karen Tarasevich

Salary: $134,000

District Profile

Student Body Size: 3,374

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $53,918,748

Prev Next

25. Exeter-West Greenwich

Superintendent James H. Erinakes II

Salary: $135,000

District Profile

Student Body Size: 1,678

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $32,331,544

Prev Next

24. Narragansett

Superintendent Katherine E. Sipala

Salary: $138,485

District Profile

Student Body Size: 1,407

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $26,850,371

Prev Next

23. Burrillville

Superintendent Frank Pallotta

Salary: $139,000

District Profile

Student Body Size: 2,418

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $31,681,821

Prev Next

22. Smithfield

Superintendent Robert O'Brien

Salary: $141,481

District Profile

Student Body Size: 2,349

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $34,311,788

Prev Next

21. Foster-Glocester

Superintendent Michael S. Barnes

Salary: $141,756

District Profile

Student Body Size: 1,226

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $18,267,711

Prev Next

20. Bristol-Warren

Superintendent Melinda Thies

Salary: $142,550

Longevity Pay: $2,550

District Profile

Student Body Size: 3,454

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $51,591,792

Prev Next

19. East Greenwich

Superintendent Victor Mercurio

Salary: $144,279

District Profile

Student Body Size: 2,323

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $32,975,952

Prev Next

18. East Providence

Superintendent Kim Mercer

Salary: $144,279

District Profile

Student Body Size: 5,338

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $77,242,920

Prev Next

17. Central Falls

Superintendent Frances Gallo

Salary: $144,900

District Profile

Student Body Size: 2,724

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $51,519,366

Prev Next

16. Coventry

Superintendent Michael Almeida

Salary: $145,000

District Profile

Student Body Size: 4,970

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $67,620,141

Prev Next

15. Cranston

Superintendent Judith Lundsten

Salary: $145,083

District Profile

Student Body Size: 10,030

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $140,651,662

Prev Next

14. North Kingstown

Superintendent Phillip Auger

Salary: $145,352

District Profile

Student Body Size: 4,398

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $61,636,874

Prev Next

13. Westerly

Superintendent Roy Seitsinger

Salary: $146,477

District Profile

Student Body Size: 3,030

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $55,015,253

Prev Next

12. Barington

Superintendent Michael Messore

Salary: $147,500

District Profile

Student Body Size: 3,101

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $44,851,748

Note: Salary includes longevity pay.

Prev Next

11. Chariho

Superintendent Barry J. Ricci

Salary: $149,030

District Profile

Student Body Size: 3,421

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $55,831,939

Note: District includes towns of Charlestown, Richmond, and Hopkinton.

Prev Next

10. Lincoln

Superintendent Georgia Fortunato

Salary: $149,130

District Profile

Student Body Size: 3,236

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $49,551,778

Prev Next

9. Woonsocket

Superintendent Giovanna M. Donoyan

Salary: $150,000

District Profile

Student Body Size: 5,636

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $77,022,482

Prev Next

8. Scituate

Superintendent Paul R. Lescault

Salary: $150,098

District Profile

Student Body Size: 1,492

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $22,330,940

Prev Next

7. South Kingstown

Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow

Salary: $151,008

District Profile

Student Body Size: 3,393

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $59,950,442

Prev Next

6. Middletown

Superintendent Rosemarie K. Kraeger

Salary: $154,059

District Profile

Student Body Size: 2,360

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $37,340,131

Prev Next

5. Newport

Superintendent John H. Ambrogi

Salary: $155,000

District Profile

Student Body Size: 2,005

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $39,683,489

Prev Next

4. Cumberland

Superintendent Philip Thorton

Salary: $158,000

District Profile

Student Body Size: 4,470

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $55,508,846

Prev Next

3. Pawtucket

Superintendent Deborah A. Cylke

Salary: $159,000

District Profile

Student Body Size: 9,072

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $112,889,497

Prev Next

2. Warwick

Superintendent Richard D'Agostino

Salary: $169,371

Longevity Pay: $2,480

District Profile

Student Body Size: 9,487

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $162,729,013

Prev Next

1. Providence

Superintendent Susan Lusi

Salary: $190,000

District Profile

Student Body Size: 22,432

Annual Budget (FY 2012): $364,621,277


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I have had many interactions with school superintendents at North Providence and we are fortunate to have a new superintendent, Melinda Smith. She is a multitasking, non stop architect for better education in our school district.
One of the things that Tim Ryan mentioned cannot be underscored enough, a school district is complex and is a reflection of the management and execution of organized plans for stated goals in a school district.
A good superintendent must develop new rules of engagement to achieve progress with better results. I for one am confident that in NP we have a shot at making great strides in our school district and we need it.

Comment #1 by Gary Arnold on 2014 01 23

Thank God this report is finally out as it shows just how much money (Taxpayers' Hard-Earned Tax Dollars are being pissed away on unneeded salaries and keeping the Elitist, Privileged, Educational Bureaucracy in this State growing.

As an individual with an extensive background, in the Private Sector, in Business Management and Finances (Gained with the Automotive and Automotive Computer Industry) along with serving 3-Terms on the Cumberland School Committee, I have often spoke out about the financial irresponsibility, and structure of school systems here in Rhode Island.

One of my biggest complaints is about the fact that we have to have, for all intents and purposes, 39-Autonomous School Districts here in the State of Rogues Island (the smallest State in the Country) wherein there are, in America, over 50-County School Districts, in different states, whose total county school student populations are equal to (just below) or exceed the total school population of Rhode Island! These COUNTY School Districts manage themselves, for all intents and purposes, with an 'Administrative Staff' of one of this and one of that....not 39 of this and 39 of that, especially all of these OVERPAID Superintendents that are milking the systems for all its worth and, more-so, not getting the job done of education our children.

Most of them, if not all of them, DO NOT have the totally unneeded. And as but one more example the overly costly, and usually overpaid, position of 'Business Manager' as we have here in Rhode Island with '39' of them and their cast (staff) of God only knows how many? WHY? When every city and town already has a Finance Director....a person, in most instances, much more qualified and financially astute then are these so-called business managers.

It also need be known that while, on paper, there are 5-Counties in Rhode Island....we are the ONLY state in the entire country with absolutely no, cost-effective form of, actually any form of, 'County Government

If ever there were ever 'Proof Personified' that the system is not only broken, but that it is also improperly structured, Rogues Island is 'The Poster Child' for proving the point!

Tom Letourneau
Cumberland, RI

Comment #2 by TOM LETOURNEAU on 2014 01 23

Narragansett= $19500,00 per kid...1400 kids/ 27 million dollar budget. roughly 85 percent of all tax dollar goes to schools. Right now the town is 100 million in debt due to pension liabilities. the school dept has the nerve to offer up a 2 million dollar bond for a new 1000 seat stadium, lights, turf etc....... nice example they set for the kids. "no matter how hard times are you can always find a way and get what you want regardless of prior commitments" Send non connected (dem) help...they ran this place into the ground.

Comment #3 by John Munroe on 2014 01 23

Can you provide the information in table form by any chance? Thanks

Comment #4 by Yamil Baez on 2014 01 23

Yup, and we need 39 of in Rhode Island. What a mismanaged state we have.

Comment #5 by Mark St. Pierre on 2014 01 23

Golocalprov refuses to ever right about news.
So with all of their "reporting" on salaries, when are you going to list the top 50 salaries at Golocalprov?

Comment #6 by pearl fanch on 2014 01 23

Those who couldn't manage a koolaid stand on the best day of their lives can ALWAYS tell you how much to pay someone to run a school system.

Comment #7 by G Godot on 2014 01 23

John Munroe has it right...where are the priorities?...a school department funding a football stadium with their "extra" funds...when the town is 100 million plus in debt for pensions and health care...and retirees are taking benefit reductions...Whats going on there?

Comment #8 by michael riley on 2014 01 24

uh...pearl the public taxpayer doesn't pay the Go Local workers...confused?

Comment #9 by michael riley on 2014 01 24

I sometimes semi-joke that we might consider hiring superintendents and other high paid academic administrators the way we do highway contracts - set appropriate qualifications and award job to low (or almost low) qualified bidder. Would we be worse off?

Comment #10 by barry schiller on 2014 01 25

No so G Godot...anyone that gets a town 100 mil in debt has the very credentials you suggest.. As a retired business owner there are a few steps that will get the town of Narragansett out of this mess.....
1) bankruptcy,
2) put every town worker on 401's immediately
3) a 30% reduction in the workforce (across the board) we have a bloated system...example...a little league field with underground sprinklers,turf, heavy fertilized (in a wetland) and $20,000(plus) for (special) infield dirt not to mention all the man hours for manicuring..ONE FIELD .. ONE YEAR?
4) sub contract out all town services
Even a Popsicle shack should be profitable...

Comment #11 by John Munroe on 2014 01 27

Yeah, sure, it's the little league field that did it. What's it have to do with how much a town should pay a quaified school superintendant?
I don't see anything in your list of kooolaid stand suggestions about a change in the town council or manager, now do I?

Comment #12 by G Godot on 2014 01 27

Mr Munroe brings up some good points about Narragansett. The town recently cut back retiree benefits and rightly so due to poor management by the town managers and town council over the last 10-12 years. But the town really has not come close to solving the problem.There is still $100 million in OPEB liability directly ahead. Narragansett has willfully broken State law 12 years in a row by purposely under-funding their Pension ARC. And now after just recently being forced to confront pensions as they slipped into critical status, Narragansett's town council strangely made the decision,with the support of the School and its "extra savings" to put the funding of a high school football field on the ballot.I thought I knew a little about politics but cutting retiree benefits to fund a football field seems dumb. Secondly any superintendent running a school costing $19,500 per student is not doing their job, doesn't understand finance and should be let go, regardless of how much their salary is.

Comment #13 by michael riley on 2014 01 27

Not to insult anyone here as I tried (further above) to try and bring forth some intelligent and factual information on school system costs...and why.

A few other people did likewise only to be ridiculed and insulted by an individual that, very obviously, comes from within the problem....and who also hides behind a screen name and offers nothing even close to intelligent. Proof obvious then that he (she) is from within the Halls of Academia....the group that is costing us all of this money and, more-so, not getting the job done!

SO....G Godot, feel free to comment all you wish.....but, how about the next time you write, try to have something intelligent to say or offer?


Comment #14 by TOM LETOURNEAU on 2014 01 27

They have this joke that goes:

"Hell is a place where the British are the chefs, the Swiss are the lovers (can also insert British), the French make the cars, the Germans are the police, and the Italians run the Government."

That stupid joke rings especially true in Rhode Island, where a large base of Italian and Irish immigrants have a substantial influence in government. Both in Italy and Ireland (and also Greece and Spain), political patronage was rewarded with state employment. This "pay for play" system is needed when groups of people are politically disenfranchised. Once the disenfranchised get a foothold in the political system, they appoint other family and friends to increase their influence.

My family is from Spain, youth unemployment is close to 40%, pensioners and their health benefits make up a huge percentage of the budget and deficit, and businesses and the young and educated are fleeing (sound like Rhode Island?).

The structure of our schools, the government, police and fire, and public private partnerships like RIPTA, all are organized to create numerous public employee positions that can be doled out as favors to increase the power of those who are elected.

I am a life long Democrat and still identify on a national level with the Democratic party, but in Rhode Island, the Democratic party is utterly disgusting. The greed has no bounds. And I wonder whether we should move before it's too late and our real estate becomes worthless due to failing schools and over taxation.

Comment #15 by George Costanza on 2014 02 11

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.