What does your school administrator make?
The administrator in the corner office at your local school is sitting pretty with a six-figure paycheck. Principals in Alexandria pull in anywhere from $117,000 a year to $161,000 a year — information that is closely guarded by a school system that requires a public-records request before handing over a list of administrator salaries. The paychecks offer a window into how the school system is managed as well as the cost of overhead.
“There tends to be momentum toward this idea that school principals and school superintendents are paid a lot or perhaps even overpaid,” said Noelle Ellerson, executive director of American Association of School Administrators. “And I think a really good base of reference is to take a like-sized business and look at what the CEO or administration of that business is paid based on the number of employees.”
Alexandria administrators make more money than most school divisions in Virginia. Even compared to salaries in other parts of Northern Virginia, administrators who work at Alexandria City Public Schools are the highest in the region. Superintendent Morton Sherman said he’s proud of that distinction.
“We are probably in the upper third of Northern Virginia jurisdictions,” said Sherman, who makes $264,000 a year. “We want to attract and retain the best.”
T.C. WILLIAMS HIGH SCHOOL has the largest number of administrators — 14 at the main campus, four more at Minnnie Howard Ninth Grade Center and another at the Landmark Mall satellite campus. Added together, that’s more than $2 million for administration salaries with about 3,000 students. That means administrators are getting about $700 in salary for each student.
“I think this has been a great return on investment,” said Sherman. “I don’t hear people complaining about our counseling department any more, and I don’t hear people complaining about fights in the hallways they way they were when I got here.”
After years of failing test scores, T.C. Williams was dubbed a “persistently lowest achieving school” back in 2010. Since that time, Sherman hired a Maryland administrator to lead the school and gave her a paycheck of $161,000 a year — the highest paid principal in the city. The school is no longer in a lowest achieving school, although the reorganization left a legacy with several new administrative positions. School leaders say the idea behind the reorganization was to create “small learning communities,” each of which has its own leadership hierarchy.
“When you have one assistant principal responsible for tenth grade, it’s efficient but it may not be as effective,” said Steven Staples, executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents. “By breaking it into smaller houses, they are probably more effective in interacting with the kids, but it’s not going to look as efficient.”
DURING HIS TIME at the head of Alexandria City Public Schools, Sherman reorganized two middle school facilities into six separate schools — each of which has its own principal and associate principal. That’s increased the overhead at the schools, the latest twist on an old complaint that has plagued city schools for decades.
“Alexandria has a long history of having bloated administration,” said Hazel Rigby, longtime teacher and former president of the Education Association of Alexandria. “But administrators at private schools make twice as much if not more.”
When asked about administrator salaries, school leaders were unwilling to hand over the information without a formal request through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. Sherman now says that policy is “under review,” especially after school leaders responded to a formal public-records request with what they now admit was incomplete information.
“To mandate to folks that they submit a FOIA is the wrong approach, especially if it’s information that we know should be readily available to the public,” said School Board member Bill Campbell. “It’s a tactic that says, ‘Well maybe these folks will go away.’”