The highest paid school superintendent in North Carolina is Bill Harrison, head of the Alamance-Burlington system. Reporting earlier this month from shows Harrison’s salary is causing controversy. 

“Now we know where our taxes are going to,” said resident Debbie Underwood who can’t believe Harrison is the highest paid superintendent when students in the county don’t have the resources they need and teachers are forced to buy their own supplies. “It shouldn’t be that way but if this man is getting $330,000, I can see why.”

School board member Patsy Simpson was the only board member who voted against the salary saying Wednesday “it was just too much.”

Is it really too much money? That’s open to interpretation. I’m a believer in market forces and if a person is able to command a certain salary, then that is the market value. The difference, of course, is that we’re talking about tax dollars here. In Harrison’s case, $245,000 is from tax dollars, with the rest picked up by several other entities. In this piece, JLF’s Terry Stoops takes a look at the history of superintendents in our state.

But like every profession, it has its fair share of problems. Two of the most notable are turnover and compensation. Turnover drives compensation, and compensation drives turnover.

A school board may feel compelled to pack a superintendent contract with creative perks in order to attract a candidate to their district. In August 2013, WRAL examined the contracts of all 115 public school superintendents in North Carolina. They found that, in addition to high salaries and generous benefits, superintendents also received numerous extras, including housing allowances, overtime pay, and contract buyouts. Often these add-ons were inserted into contracts at the behest of the chosen one. Desperate school board members are all too willing to play along.

At the same time, more attractive salaries and benefits give superintendents an incentive to make any stay a temporary one. There is no shortage of opportunities to move up the superintendent career ladder, given the relatively high turnover rates among larger and often wealthier school districts.

Indeed, it is no wonder that small, rural districts have a difficult time convincing exceptional (or even mediocre) superintendents to stay put. Rarely can those districts match the salaries and benefits offered by urban and suburban counterparts. In most cases, this means that positions in these districts merely serve as entry-level jobs.