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Superintendent's Salary: More is Less  

By Ann K. Williams
Lookout Staff

May 19, 2011 – Most people would count themselves happy to be making $230,000 plus benefits, but pay, especially for top-level administrators like the new head of Santa Monica-Malibu schools, is a relative thing.

A comparison of the employment agreements for three recent superintendents and incoming leader Sandra Lyon shows a certain amount of uneveness, although the pay scale has generally risen.

Lyon will take home more dollars than any previous superintendent. At $230,000, her salary is not that far below what former district head John Deasy is going to get for heading the nation's second largest district, Los Angeles Unified.

Deasy's offered to reduce his pay from $330,000 to $275,000, an offer Santa Monica-Malibu Board President Jose Escarce thinks is generous, but beside the point when it comes to the board's decision about Lyon's pay.

“This is what we have to pay to get an excellent superintendent for our district,” scarce told The Lookout Wednesday, a day before the school board sat down to vote on Lyon's contract.

Escarce said that the board looked at comparable districts in terms of size, cost of living and “expectations of the community,” and this pay rate falls “right smack in the range” of what those districts are paying.

But how does Lyon's take home pay compare with past school leaders?

In 2004, the board negotiated its last contract with Deasy. His salary was $150,000 which, according to the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Consumer Price Index (CPI) calculator would buy some $179,000 worth of goods today, approximately $50,000 less than what Lyon will take home.

A few years later, in 2006, Dianne Talarico was offered $182,000, which, adjusting for inflation using the CPI calculator, equals some $203,000 in today's dollars. And Interim Superintendent Tim Cuneo was offered $220,000 in 2009, which, using the same calculations, would come out to about $231,000 today.

So Talarico and Cuneo's salaries were much higher than those of their predecessors, while Lyon's salary holds relatively even with Cuneo's.

And the BLS Employment Cost Index Numbers for the Professional, Education and Public Administration employee categories show wages in these fields have grown in the neighborhood of 20 per cent since 2004. A salary 20 per cent higher than Deasy's was in 2004 would be $180,000.

But that's not taking benefits into consideration.

All four superintendents' contracts have more or less the same wording when it comes to health benefits and pension. They all had or will have a choice of health and dental plans, with the district paying 8.25 per cent of their salaries into a state pension plan. And their vacation, disability and sick leave are about the same.

Even automobile, and lately cell phone, allowances, while increasing, don't vary too far from each other.

But there's a lot of variation in in other kinds of benefits, most notably housing allowances.

After getting off to a somewhat rocky start during his tenure, Deasy's housing allowance settled into a monthly stipend of $1,500, or $18,000 a year.

Talarico didn't get a housing allowance, but did receive a “one-time actual moving expense,” travel costs and two round-trip plane tickets to help her move from Ohio to the west coast.

And the board agreed to give her an annual contribution of $12,000 to an annuity or deferred compensation plan. Like Deasy, Talarico received a life insurance policy, courtesy of the district – hers was valued at $250,000, while Deasy's was valued at $200,000.

The superintendent's housing allowance jumped to $3,200 a month, or $38,400 a year, when Cuneo's contract was hammered out in 2009.

His case was special, Escarce said. The board always considered him an interim, short-term superintendent.

Since he had a home in San Jose, it was a good investment to give him an adequate housing allowance so he could live here and still keep his permanent residence, Escarce said.

The board extended his contract so he could “continue his great work, helping us stabilize our district,” said Escarce. “We wanted very badly for him to stay.”

Though she'll receive no housing allowance, Lyon will receive a relocation expense of $12,000 and, like Talarico, she'll get a coach to help her learn the ropes for one year who'll make up to $12,000.

Her employment agreement is set to be approved at Thursday's school board meeting.

The public session will begin at 6:00 p.m. at the Santa Monica-Malibu School District office at 1651 16th Street.

Those who would like to amuse themselves with the Department of Labor's many engrossing database applications may visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.


“This is what we have to pay to get an excellent superintendent for our district.” Jose Escarce

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