A legislator says she will file a bill to cap the salary of future state superintendents of education and require the Legislature to approve any raises following a report showing Mississippi’s superintendent is the highest paid in the nation.
Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, a member of the House Education Committee, said her bill as written would cap any future education chief’s salary at $250,000. Current State Superintendent Carey Wright makes $300,000, nearly twice the national average of pay of $174,000, according to Education Week.
Part of the reason for Wright’s pay is an old law that required the K-12 head to be compensated at 90 percent of what the Institutions of Higher Learning commissioner makes. Although the Legislature did away with that law in 2011, the salary for Wright’s predecessor remained at $307,000, and Wright was hired by the State Board of Education at her current salary level in 2013.
Mississippi IHL Commissioner Glenn Boyce makes just under $360,000 annually.
“When you look at other states, we’re just far above them,” Currie said. She acknowledged progress under Wright’s tenure, such as improved test scores and graduation rates and the transitions Wright has overseen in terms of Common Core and changing federal regulations.
“I think she (Wright) has done a good job and gone through a lot of growing pains, our numbers are better, and I don’t want to belittle anything that she’s done,” Currie said.
Currie emphasized that the bill would not affect Wright’s pay but instead set a cap for future superintendents. She said she picked $250,000 to ensure there would be quality candidates to choose from.
“Sometimes you have to pay a little more to get the right person, but I did not realize we were so far out of line with other states with the salary,” Currie continued.
State Board of Education Chair Rosemary Aultman said she can’t answer whether she thinks a $250,000 salary would be sufficient to attract a competitive pool of candidates.
“These people who are truly transformational, who have a track record and a strong grasp of the job and who are willing to take on the job – you’re going to have to pay them and you’re going to have to pay them well,” she said. “I can’t say whether it would attract anybody or not at $250,000, but, you know, you’ve got to see a big picture here.”
Aultman, who said she was aware Mississippi was in the top five states but not the highest state in terms of superintendent salary, has questions about how determinations regarding salary increases would be made should Currie’s bill become law.
“I would question who’s going to do the evaluation and how it (a raise) would be determined, should that issue come up,” she said.
The State Board of Education currently evaluates the superintendent annually. Aultman said Wright has not received a pay raise during her time as superintendent but highlighted the strides the state has made since Wright took over.
“We’re seeing results from the investment in leadership. Fourth grade reading gains, third grade Reading Gate passages, increased graduation rates, declining drop out rates, increase in Advanced Placement enrollment, just to name a few, are all direct results of Dr. Wright’s leadership with school districts across the state,” Aultman said. “While there remains much to be done, schools are on the right trajectory.”
Senate Education Chairman Gray Tollison, who authored the 2011 bill that removed the requirement the K-12 head be compensated at 90 percent of the higher education commissioner’s salary and put the board back in charge, said it will undoubtedly be a topic for discussion in the 2018 legislative session.
“Quite frankly, though, if we’re going to look at this one (salary) we need to look at the IHL commissioner and other salaries” as well, Tollison said.
He also said removing the board’s ability to set the superintendent’s salary could have drawbacks.
“I think we have some very capable adults on the State Board of Education and they are certainly in a better position to determine the appropriate salary (for the superintendent),” he said. “You don’t want to micromanage, you want to let the state board do its job, but at the same time I understand the concern if this salary is appropriate.”
House Education Chairman John Moore said he would like to do more research on previous superintendents’ salaries before expressing any opinion on Currie’s bill.
He also said he wouldn’t want to do anything that would send a negative message to Wright.
“In my opinion she’s doing a good job and she takes a lot of heat. I wouldn’t want to do anything that would make Dr. Wright start looking at leaving Mississippi,” he said.
Wright, who began her tenure as Mississippi’s superintendent in 2013, previously worked as an associate superintendent in the Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland and as Chief Academic Officer in the District of Columbia Public Schools. She earned her bachelor, master and doctoral degrees from the University of Maryland, College Park.