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Tuesday, November 15, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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More perks thrown in to attract school chiefs

Seattle Times staff reporter

School boards in the biggest urban districts are offering ever-higher salaries, bonuses and perks to land the rare blue-chip leader who holds the promise of transforming their public schools.

Business leaders in Miami, Las Vegas and Buffalo, N.Y., have raised money to supplement their school districts' offers to top talent, according to a foundation whose superintendent academy recruits and trains talented executives to lead urban districts.

"We're seeing more of it than we have in the past, and it wouldn't surprise me if the trend continued," said Dan Katzir, managing director of the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation.

Nationally in 2003, the average salary for superintendents of school districts with 25,000 or more students was estimated at $170,024, according to Educational Research Service. The average benefit package for urban superintendents the same year was about $40,000.

Raj Manhas, superintendent of the state's largest district, Seattle, is paid $175,000 in base salary, according to the district.

By contrast, notes a new report by the American Association of School Administrators, the chief executives of Puget Sound businesses Getty Images and Cascade Natural Gas — both have smaller budgets — were paid about $2 million and $291,000, respectively.

"We spend tons of time every year talking to people everywhere across the country about thinking about the superintendency as the next great step in a challenging career," Katzir said. "It's at that point we get a lot of questions about compensation and we lose a lot of people."

Some districts are trying to sweeten the pot by offering performance bonuses. Katzir said that in urban districts, bonuses tied to annual evaluations have become the norm.

Not in Kent and most other Puget Sound area districts. Michael Harrington, Kent School District's general counsel, said the School Board there won't renew the superintendent's contract if it's not satisfied.

Only Lake Washington, Tukwila and Renton tie superintendent pay to performance, a Seattle Times review of 18 neighboring or similar-sized districts shows.

Superintendents in Renton and Tukwila receive bonuses of $9,000 and $4,000, respectively, for accomplishing goals agreed upon with the board. Lake Washington's board withholds 5 percent of the superintendent's salary and awards it after a successful annual evaluation.

Certain districts are more generous than the others. In 2004-05, for example:

Car allowance: Tukwila gives its executive an $800 monthly stipend for driving his car on district business, far more than Seattle, at $633 a month, and Edmonds, at $350.

Retention bonus: Northshore is the only district reviewed that awards its superintendent a bonus worth 8 percent of her base salary simply for sticking around. At $11,707 last year, the bonus is cheaper, a district official says, than conducting a national search.

Vacation: Kent Superintendent Barbara Grohe gets 30 days of vacation plus an additional 35 days if the School Board president approves it. District officials say the board wanted to give Grohe the flexibility to take six weeks off to visit her grandchildren, who live in Australia.

Civic duties: It's common for districts to cover the dues for their superintendents to participate in a local civic organization. Kent and Northshore give their superintendents up to 15 and 18 days, respectively, of additional pay for outreach work after business hours and on weekends and holidays.

Tax-sheltered annuities: Districts supplement their superintendents' salaries with contributions to tax-sheltered annuities: Tacoma, $20,000; Spokane, $18,300; Northshore, $17,000; Renton, $15,091; Bellevue, $12,500; Edmonds, $12,000; Issaquah, $12,000; Shoreline, $10,000; and Kent, the cash value of the 35 optional vacation days or of those unused. (An annuity is a tax-deferred investment that typically provides an annual payment in the future in exchange for upfront contributions.)

All this isn't enough to woo candidates to urban school districts in droves, Katzir said.

As of Friday, there were 21 superintendent openings in the nation's 175 largest school districts, he said. The number hasn't dropped below 17 openings all year.

"It's the fattest list that I've seen consistently since I've been here," he said.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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