By Mike Anthony
The search is officially underway for a successor to Lindbergh Schools Superintendent Jim Simpson, who is retiring at the end of the current school year.
Applications are due Nov. 10 for the superintendent’s position, which will offer a salary range of $200,000 to $240,000.
Board of Education members met last week with consultant Brent Underwood of the Missouri School Boards’ Association, who is facilitating the search, to discuss the job posting, including qualifications they would like to see in the new superintendent.
Board members are seeking a candidate who has a minimum of two to three years of experience as a central office administrator.
Candidates also will be required to hold a superintendent’s certificate and a doctorate degree, according to the job posting.
Discussing the salary for the job posting at the Oct. 17 meeting, Underwood reviewed information about superintendent salaries throughout the county and recommended the board set the salary for the superintendent’s position “in excess or north of the $200,000 range.”
The higher-paid superintendents in the county are making the salaries they do primarily as a result of “the number of years in the seat,” he said. “Some of the higher numbers that you’ll see in the county are the folks who have the most tenure in their position, people like Dr. (David) Knes in Valley Park and Dr. Simpson here in Lindbergh. They’ve been here nine, 10, 11 years …”
Simpson, who has served as Lindbergh superintendent since July 1, 2008, is being paid $278,984 for the current school year.
“… Basically now you’re at or near the top of the salary range in terms of St. Louis County with what Dr. Simpson is making,” Underwood said. “And so the question becomes as you look forward to that to the search, is this a time where the system and the district think to maybe reset that a little bit and still remain in the competitive salary that you think is due the caliber of the candidate pool that we’re likely to receive, i.e., are you looking to attract sitting superintendents who are making near that number? Because they’re not likely to move to a larger district with more responsibilities for less money …
“Or do you want to look at it, you know, this is where we are, we see that as a jumping-off point or we see that as maybe a beginning point and maybe even attract more from around the country if we start at the number and make it a little larger? That’s kind of where we are in terms of wrestling with that salary piece …,” he said.
Factors to consider when setting the salary range for the job posting are the salaries of other Central Office personnel, building administrators and “knowing where your employee groups rank countywide,” Underwood said. “Sometimes there can be added dissonance if there’s a disparity that’s too large — the gap is too large …”
For example, when he became superintendent of the Webster Groves School District nearly 20 years ago, he said the salary of the departing superintendent was the second highest in the county, while teacher salaries “were nowhere near the median. So that was a bone of contention, if you will, among our staff …”
Board Treasurer Mike Tsichlis asked Underwood about his suggestion that the new superintendent’s salary be north of $200,000.
“… The reason I said the north of $200,000 is because you’ve got about seven or eight other districts in the county well in excess of $200,000, and some of those folks may be seeking to look at this position,” Underwood said. “And they’re not going to look at that position if you check it back down to somewhere in the $200,000, $205,000 neighborhood.
“So immediately you’re going to lose some of those people. You’ll probably lose some on the Kansas City side, some on the metro area side of the contiguous Midwest and others … Historically in the Midwest, we’re not near the top in terms of pay when it comes to CEO, superintendent-level positions. Anybody coming from either coast or certainly Midwest north are going to be making more.”
In recommending a salary north of $200,000, Underwood cited the district’s stellar reputation.
“Your reputation is such that you’re probably one of the top two or three districts in our state,” he said. “People are going to assume, I believe, that the compensation for that person at the top will be commensurate with the same one or two or three (districts) in the state. And I think if you start around that neighborhood, $225,000, $230,000, have a range somewhere in there, then you’re likely to draw the folks we’re looking to attract. If you’re down around $200,000, you’re going to lose some folks. That’s my opinion …”
In response to a question from Tsichlis about negotiating the final salary with a candidate, Underwood said, “… Absolutely, there’s room for negotiation. Because we may find somebody that we fall in love with is making significantly less than that (and) would not anticipate a $70,000 jump in salary or whatever …”
Tsichlis said, “I guess my point in raising this is that I think our community is very sensitive to the superintendent’s salary, and so we just want to make sure we do our due diligence to find not only the best superintendent we possibly can, but also to show that we’ve made some effort in the negotiation process to find sort of, you know, the best fit salarywise for our community, too.”
Board member Christy Watz later said, “So I would like to reset a little bit and I like the bottom end at $225,000 …”
Board member Cathy Carlock Lorenz said, “And I think that bottom number’s too high based on what you were saying earlier, Brent. Our teachers are in the lower half … 19, 18, whatever, out of 22 school districts.”
Lorenz, who serves as an assistant principal in the Parkway School District, also noted that based on information Underwood had provided to the board, the median salary for superintendents in St. Louis County increased from $135,000 in 2005 to $185,000 in 2016.
“That’s $50,000, which is not the rate that teachers progress, obviously, or central office or most superintendents even do when it comes to that,” she said. “And that’s the median … I agree with what Christy was saying in the reset, and I don’t think the reset would start at $225,000 if we were looking at that. It could end up that because maybe it’s somebody that we’re promoting … But starting at $225,000, I would start lower.”
Board Secretary Mike Shamia said, “I would be an advocate for lowering the bottom end of the range and making a wider range … My concern is excluding exceptional candidates from even looking at the position.”
After further discussion, board members, by consensus, agreed to set the salary range for the position at $200,000 to $240,000.