My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

'Seller's market' for superintendents complicates search for school leaders

Hamsphire Gazette
Monday, March 15, 2010

NORTHAMPTON - Even as school superintendents remain in high demand, most of those working in Hampshire County earn salaries well below the state average, though a few are creeping closer.

Former Amherst School Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez, who left his post abruptly last week, was the only area superintendent earning more than $150,000 in base salary, a Gazette survey finds.

In addition, he is one of about 60 of the commonwealth's 277 school superintendents who leave their posts each year, a turnover rate that prompts some districts to offer more attractive compensation packages, according to education experts.

"Supply and demand has certainly been changing the landscape," said Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. "There are so few candidates out there compared to what there used to be. It's a pretty tough market right now."

Hampshire County is no exception to the revolving door for superintendents. Of 12 public school districts surveyed by the Gazette, four employ superintendents who have been on the job for a year or less. Two school districts have interim superintendents, while another two have superintendents retiring this year.

No current superintendent has remained on the job for a decade, though a few - Hadley School Superintendent Nicholas D. Young and Frontier Regional School District Superintendent Regina H. Nash - are close to that mark.

Many school administrators become superintendents near the end of their careers, so retirements are always a factor in job turnover. Others leave because they end up working with new school boards that did not hire them and wind up at odds over how to run a district.

Growing complexity

But the job of school superintendent also has become increasingly complex and demanding in a state with a highly regulated education system, which is another reason fewer highly qualified candidates emerge in superintendent searches today.

"Accountability is a much bigger factor than it used to be and the superintendency makes a lot of demands on people's time," Scott said. "A lot of people say, #I don't want to be a 24/7 person and the subject of public comment or the target of a particular issue.' I say to superintendents all the time, #You're only as good as your last act.'"

Scott said superintendent searches often yield about 20 or so candidates and only a small number of these job-seekers come with strong credentials.

Raising the stakes

Today's job market may largely explain why Hadley school officials last month reached a new six-year contract with Young, their superintendent. It provides salary increases of 5 percent or more over the next several years.

Approved by a split vote, the pact boosts Young's current base salary from $126,649 to $147,735 by 2012.

Hadley's school district is among the smallest in the county, though Young's latest contract features several new financial incentives. Those provisions include three $6,000 longevity payments, a $2,000 tax-deferred annuity and a full payout of all unused, accumulated vacation time when the contract terminates.

As they hammered out the deal, Hadley School Committee Chairwoman Tracy Kelley said school officials were "putting something together that ensures (Young's) success and longevity."

Rewarding valued school superintendents with more attractive compensation packages is a common feature in today's market, particularly when cities and towns can afford to pay for top talent, say those involved in searches.

"When districts have the ability to pay with this significant shortage, they're in a better position to attract the best people," said Scott, of the state superintendents' association. "I watch this statewide, and I see places doing exactly what Hadley did."

Higher in Boston

For the most part, compensation packages for superintendents are lower west of Boston, where school districts tend to be larger. In Arlington, for example, the salary for a new superintendent has been posted at $155,000 to $175,000 and in Andover from $180,000 to $200,000.

But there is evidence to suggest superintendent salaries in some areas of the state are trending up.

East Longmeadow, a school district similar in size to some districts in the immediate area, is advertising a hiring salary for its next superintendent at $130,000 to $140,000.

"We are seeing the superintendents in the Connecticut Valley getting closer to the state average," said Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.

The association consults on superintendent searches for hundreds of school districts in the state and recently provided technical assistance to Easthampton's superintendent search. The association will be working with Granby as that town begins a search later this year. It charges $8,500 for those services.

"In this era, school committees don't want to lose good superintendents," Koocher said. "Districts want to lock up good, stable leadership."

When Amherst school officials hired Rodriguez last year, they said they were aware of the controversy his $158,000 base salary might stir up, but noted it was a seller's market.

"Unfortunately, we cannot wish away the laws of supply and demand and ignore the realities of the labor market," school officials said in a statement.

Area compensation

Apart from Rodriguez, the former Amherst superintendent, only David Hopson, superintendent of the Gateway Regional School District, receives total compensation that exceeds $150,000.

Hopson earns a base salary of $147,329, but also receives a tax-deferred annuity of $4,205, which is a common feature in school superintendent compensation packages.

The lack of a tax-deferred annuity in Rodriguez's contract in Amherst may help explain his $158,000 base salary. The state's recent pension reform act removes tax-sheltered annuities, among other benefits, from retirement calculations after 2012.

"What will likely happen going forward is (superintendents) would prefer to have most of their compensation in salary form," Scott said. "That salary is the only thing that can now be counted in the calculation of retirement."

The average tax-deferred annuity, or contribution to a retirement plan, for school superintendents around the state exceeds $10,000 annually, a figure no superintendent in Hampshire County receives.

The average pay for superintendents in the state was in the $140,000 range last year and hovers around $150,000, according to organizations that track those figures.

Fewer than half of the county's school superintendents receive a tax-sheltered annuity in addition to their salaries. Those amounts range from $1,980 to $4,205.

Wish to 'show leadership'

At least one superintendent, Isabelina Rodriguez of the Northampton public schools, has voluntarily given up her $2,000 annuity payment and negotiated salary increases over two fiscal years, joining other city and school employees who were asked to make financial sacrifices to save jobs.

Arthur P. Apostolou, superintendent of Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, did the same by taking no salary increase in the current fiscal year.

"I just felt I needed to show leadership by saying I would start by not taking the negotiated salary increase," Rodriguez said of her decision to remain at $113,568.

Pay for superintendents in the Hampshire County region ranges from about $100,000 to $125,000, though at least two superintendents will move into the $130,000 range beginning in July, with Young in Hadley hitting $140,700 next year.

Apart from Alberto Rodriguez, whose contract with the Amherst regional schools provided a combined $30,000 in housing and travel stipends in the first two years of his contract, no other contract surveyed by the newspaper provides similar perks apart paying for college courses, use of a Blackberry, or paying for travel costs and expenses associated with professional development, the last of which is standard feature of superintendents' contracts.

The accrual and compensation for unused vacation and sick leave days varies from district to district. For most superintendents, the number of such days are capped with some receiving compensation for unused days and others waiving them.

Half the superintendent contracts surveyed allow administrators to do paid consulting work and a few provide disability and term life insurance policies.


LarryK4 said...

Maryland, roughly the same size and population of Massachusetts, has 24 school Superintendents while Massachusetts has 279.

No wonder our state is pushing for regionalization. With that, thank God, Mass will become a "buyer's market."

Frankly, I can't wait.

Nina Koch said...

Actually, I am from Maryland, and I often find it curious the way things are done up here. (For one thing, Maryland has much better road signs than New England does!)

In Maryland, municipal services are provided on the county level. County schools, county libraries, county fire department and so forth. There is a very strong county government and a lot of areas are not incorporated into a town or city at all.

I think in rural areas of Massachusetts, it would make sense to look at providing some services on a county level. Small towns shouldn't be trying to purchase expensive ambulances and so forth.

kevin said...

Welcome back, Catherine. You didn't miss much. Let me catch you up.

An email crossed my desk this weekend about the NMO strategy, which I would like to share with you.

The writer said she was discussing the override with her neighbor who said she was afraid to vote for it because the library could pay the shortfall out of a bequest. Here is what NMO says in their fact sheet, that they sent me:



Amherst Taxpayers for Responsible Change says:

4. The Jones Library could use part of a recent bequest from the Woodbury Estate of $566,000 to deal with their projected deficit of $88,994.


This is a good question, so I bounced it off the Jones Trustees who informed me that it is not the case, as follows:


Jones Library Trustee replies:

Contrary to some unfortunate reporting, the Library has actually received less than half of the amount reportedly stated in the "Vote No" literature.

The lawyer for the Woodburys has told the Friends of the Library and the Library Trustees that it will be roughly a year before the rest arrives.

Why the Friends? Because, under the terms of the trust, it is the Friends who will direct the use of this gift.

Regardless of who calls the shots, however, neither the Woodbury gift nor any other private donation, including the Library's endowment, can help the Town of Amherst meet the Commonwealth's "Minimum Appropriation Requirement."

Only Town Meeting appropriations from Amherst tax revenues can meet that requirement.

You are welcome to pass this information along.

Sarah McKee
Trustee, Jones Library


which I bounced over to the Friends of the Jones and the staff. One of them, the mother of one of my students, got back to me, as follows:


For anyone who did not watch the override meeting last night, both the pro (Andy Churchill) and con (Stan Gawle) panelists explained the state's requirement that town funds are needed for certification, not gift funds. However, Stan Gawle offered the solution of having the Friends of the Library write a check to the town for the $88,000 and then the town would put it in the general fund and then give us the money back, as a way to meet the state's requirement.


To which I replied,


Can't you just see Stan getting up in front of Town Meeting and asking for money after the voters just turned it down?

I adore Stan, but getting 241 Town Meeting members to agree on $88,000, let alone $1.4 million, piece by piece, that is a stretch.


to which I will add,

I talked to Stan after the forum. He is a sweet fellow, we talked about our houses. He means the best.

But Stan has made a Faustian deal. He will promise whatever it takes, even though he has no control over what Town Meeting may or may not decide, and you will believe him.

There was a Tolstoy quote on Charlie Rose last night, about how people refuse to give up their old beliefs no matter what. In this case, having been lied to is even harder to swallow.

In my opinion, this is on Town Meeting. They stood by and watched him make promises in their name. This is on them.

Welcome back. Isn't Amherst fun...


Still don't believe me? I posted the NMO fact sheet at



Anonymous said...

The Commonwealth's "Minimum Appropriation Requirement" and the demagoguery by the Library Trustees about it, extending back to last spring's Town Meeting, represents one of the greatest triumphs of form over substance in the history of Amherst politics.

And that's really saying something.

The more that the Trustees talk about this, the worse for the cause of an override.

At the same time, they have taken a non-position on the override. The Trustees are far and away the most shameless group of elected officials in our town.

kevin said...

Wow. I had to check what blog I was in. Eblis shows his face.

If that is all you've got, I must be on to something. Let's parse this argument.

The Trustees have stated that, by law, Amherst will lose interlibrary privileges in the Commonwealth if the Amherst Town Meeting does not fulfill the Commonwealth's "Minimum Appropriation Requirement". Demagoguery if I've ever seen it. Does it bother you that they fear you? Wasn't that the point?

Okay. If Amherst, center of the Five Colleges, chooses to skip its obligation this year, other towns, such as Northampton (which passed its override) will probably choose not to share with Amherst -- for years to come. That seems clear.

So, it seems like they presented a clear choice to the voters. They did their job, no more and no less.

After what you and people like you subjected Catherine to, the personal violence directed against her and her family, can anyone blame them?

While the entire town watched. Through systematic, methodical, and unrelenting harassment and intimidation. And it's their fault they won't take your bait? I am afraid not.

What Stan Gawle proposed, that Amherst meet it obligation to the Commonwealth by paying out of one account while accepting a gift into another account, is illegal.

And if it is not illegal, it is hinky.

I think I will cc this to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. And, while I'm at it, to the Office of the Attorney General.

I suspect that Martha Coakley has a warm place in her heart for Amherst. And, especially, for people like you.

Lay off the Trustees. Now.

Don't believe me? Now we're talking serious fun.



Hadley Anyone? said...

"Hadley schools chief cedes 5.5% raise: Young to accept what teachers get." Article in the Gazette.

Any chance we could hire HIM as a consultant to help us develop a strategic plan? He is, after all, Superintendent of the Year for Massachusetts!

Anonymous said...


Your blog has gotten utterly stagnant and dull now that you are moderating it. Let it go back to the freefall days of open and fast-paced discussion. I can disregard the negative posts (and the negative posts about the negative posts).

Remove the offensive posts when you can and let get the discussion flowing again.

Curious Observer, now a little bored.

tired of the chaos said...

Anon 6:40: No, Amherst schools not only don't need a strategic plan, they don't need a leader for their 5 schools and almost $40 million dollars of spending. Our school system apparently can go for 4 years without a permanent superintendent. All the schools need is money and more money, without competent oversight and direction. Same as it ever was.

AJ said...

Losing interlibrary privileges is another empty threat, just more fear-mongering.

Things are tough all over the state, and nobody wants to punish public libraries for that. The requirement will be changed.

This isn't a case of one town deciding to shirk its fair share and get a free ride from everyone else. All towns are in this position.

I'm voting no.

Ed said...

(For one thing, Maryland has much better road signs than New England does!)

As one who wandered (on foot) about a mile into (Takoma) Maryland without realizing that I had crossed a state line (only finally realizing that if all the parked cars in all the driveways had MD plates on them, I likely wasn't in DC anymore), I strongly beg to differ! When you cross a state line in New England, there are signs that tell you that! (And which also remind you of all the laws that the state considers important).

In Maryland, municipal services are provided on the county level.

And this is why we need to teach state history. Why we need to explain the difference between a Commonwealth and a State. And why we need to explain what the "A" in PVTA stands for (the PVTA technically is a municipality - I am not making this up).

There is a very strong county government and a lot of areas are not incorporated into a town or city at all.

And but for pre-Depression populations, Massachusetts would still have "plantations" and "unorganized territories." The distinction is that they would be administered by the COMMONWEALTH and not the County.

And what is being overlooked here is that - until fairly recently - there was a STATE Superintendent of Schools (now the Dept of Elementary & Secondary Education) and there wasn't this local bureaucracy.

Remember that all of this evolved out of the Congregational Church (which was the established church here until 1855) and you had locals hiring the minister and teacher(s) while you had Boston saying who was qualified to be hired and what they would preach/teach.

Maryland has a different history.

Although I do agree with having regional superintendents...

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I also agree with Anon 8:26. This blog used to be a lively, sometimes raucus, place to go to discuss issues. Now its a very bland, boring place indeed. You can't very well have a discussion when you have to wait several hours to see someone's response. And, no, Catherine, I am not expecting you to be here 24/7 reading and approving posts. No one can do that. But your moderating all posts has really eliminated spirited, lively, almost in real time, discussions.

Anonymous said...

Kevin, it sounds like you weren't in Town Meeting last year when the library trustees made their case. If you were, you'd realize that they're shading the truth:

"The Trustees have stated that, by law, Amherst will lose interlibrary privileges in the Commonwealth if the Amherst Town Meeting does not fulfill the Commonwealth's 'Minimum Appropriation Requirement'".

If that's all they told you, then they forgot to mention that Amherst can apply for a waiver to the minimum appropriation requirement, and that if history is any guide, it will be almost certainly be granted. Many towns have applied for waivers in the past, and all but two or three have received them. The few that did not were the ones that cut their libraries' appropriations by huge amounts, far more than Amherst is proposing.

Keith Ulrich

Anonymous said...

This blog is not about Jones Library. I ADORE Jones Library but I do not want to read about it here.

Obviously there is a need for a blog about Jones Library funding issues, but please dont' hijack this one for that purpose.

kevin said...

Leave them alone. If you are so smart, you run for public office. They are volunteers. That would make you an abuser. Nothing prepared them for this.

I actually spoke to an Assistant Attorney General today about Stan's Nigerian shell game. And he confirmed what I supposed, they can't do that. We had a good laugh.

I asked him if they would write a letter to that effect and he said they don't write letters about people who said something, they work with municipalities.

What is very sad is that some very nice people take Stan at his word.

Please, vote no on Tuesday. The people who presented the override have no experience in municipal government and the numbers they are showing us are total lies.

There is no available information to support their figures. They made them up! No one checked their numbers to see if they are real and, in fact, they are sitting on millions of dollars in hidden reserves that they don't tell us about.

Sounds plausible, doesn't it?

And it will be years before Amherst gets another Superintendent.

Or not.



Ed said...

It will never happen, but I would like to see the district contract out the Supt job - contract out everything above the Principal level management (and abolish the AP slots in the K-6 schools).

Everything could be done for about 100K - maybe 200K - and there would be a great savings to all. And if people didn't like the way things were going, you just hire a new company much like you hire a new CPA firm.

And the School Committee truly would become the policy setting body it is supposed to be...

Nina Koch said...

I notice that nobody has commented on the actual topic here, which is the seller's market for superintendents.

It's also a seller's market for principals. We are currently trying to hire two principals, two asst principals and a Director of Curriculum and Assessment. Next year, we will start the process of searching for a permanent superintendent.

If the community can't find a way to come together to some degree, I don't see how we are going to be able to make quality hires. I think we are currently in the "ten foot pole" category.

LarryK4 said...

Geeze, Kevin while you had the Assistant AG on the phone you should have asked him about everyday business shortcuts small business owners like ourselves take in order to survive. I'm sure he would have said "we can't do that."

"Better to ask forgiveness than permission."

Besides, as another Commenter pointed out the Library can get an exemption for that small amount or better yet "ask permission" to simply spend it out of the recent half-million bequest.

Anonymous said...

Wow Larry, so now you are suggesting that Amherst do illegal things to save money like you do for your business.

What a great suggestion. Not.

Oh, and I can hear you screaming all the way from Northampton -- when the bills come in for all the legal fees that sort of rule-breaking would incur.

Guess what. A town is NOT A BUSINESS. NO, IT IS NOT. You can say all you want that a town should be run like a business but nope, it shouldn't. You just gave a great example of why not.

Oh and Ed. Why don't you spend a day shadowing one of the APs at, say, Fort River, and then come back and tell us if you still think that job is unecessary. I worked there; even as a lowly SPED para, I called on that person to help me with our challenging children -- often.

Ed, you often say some very interesting and creative things that other people don't think of, but sometimes you are really, really off the mark.

LarryK4 said...

So Anon 11:37 Am, If you live in Northampton what do you care?

If the town of Amherst--or Hamp for that matter--ran more like a small business (and there is a WORLD of difference between small businesses and GIANT evil corporations like Exxon, Microsoft, and Philip Morris) we would NOT be in this Override situation.

First off, by running more like a business we would have a Mayor/Council form of government; and three years ago the Mayor would have said to the all-powerful Teachers Union: "Here's the amount of $ we have for raises 1%--take it or leave it."

You know, kind of like what Longmeadow just did.

And that ALONE would have ended the need for an Override.

Anonymous said...

Who decided that Maria Geryk should be paid $139,000 for being Superintendent? That is more than most area superintendents are paid, and most of them have considerably more experience and education. This seems extravagant at a time when the district is asking for an override. What else is in her contract?

LarryK4 said...

And my sources tell me that Principal Mark Jackson makes a tad more than the $131,236 that shows up on the website.

Apparently ousted Super Alberto Rodriguez, after he ousted the Middle School Principal gave Jackson a $2,500/month bonus to pinch hit her job bringing his total take to $161,236.

Yep, education pays!

LarryK4 said...

Hmm...And I just noticed on the website that Maria Geryk WAS making $106,458 and now is making $139,000-- a tad over $30,000 more.

Kind of fits, don't it?

Anonymous said...

I have relationships with people in the district, friends in the town, and I care about the kids and families I worked with.

Maybe it surprises you that someone who worked in the schools could still care about the kids, since your default is to assume that ARSD employees are all in it for whatever we can get. Which in my case was about $12/hour.

I gave far more than I got and I still care.

Anonymous said...

Larry- Why do you think that would have happened if we had a mayor? And last I looked Longmeadow is still run by Town Meeting.

kevin said...

By the way, Larry, that was my mother you were talking to in the hall. She was very upset by what you were saying and says you must stop that.


Anonymous said...

"We are currently trying to hire two principals, two asst principals and a Director of Curriculum and Assessment."

Who is working on this and why is it taking so long?

LarryK4 said...

Actually Longmeadow is run by a Select Board, although like the People's Republic, town meeting holds the purse strings.

Even a stopped clock is correct...

kevin said...

Yes, Larry, that was me, standing behind you the entire time you were doing your little song and dance for that tall, elegant couple. I was waiting to walk them down the stairs, and I heard your whole speil. About when you told your neighbor about the override and she cried. [pause] And said she couldn't afford it [pause] and would have to sell her house. And then you cried -- I mean, right there in the hall, you cried. That was a nice touch. You must have told that story hundreds of times, Larry. Do you always cry at the end?

And what did you say to your neighbor to upset her so?

You didn't recognize me, did you. The tall fellow in the tan jacket and tan slacks? Didn't think so.

People in this town have let you get away with this for so long, it's not my problem.

And that is all I have to say. Good luck.



Anonymous said...

The Superintendent's Office


The Peter Principle Meets Groundhog's Day

We're doomed to live the same personnel nightmare over and over again.

Eventually, not even MariaG will be spared.

Ed said...

It's also a seller's market for principals. We are currently trying to hire two principals, two asst principals and a Director of Curriculum and Assessment.

I should go take the extra classes and get my Principal's Certificate.....

On a more serious note, the fact that there is such a shortage of leadership in the profession perhaps reflects more on the types of people who have been filtered out of the teaching cadre from which administrators come.

For the past thirty years or so, there has been a mindset of almost fascist conformity. Anyone who differs from the established orthodoxy (i.e. shows leadership ability) is run out of the profession. And these people go on into other things (many start charter schools).

And as a result, there are not the people in their 40s who you know will be a good superintendent in ten years. It almost is like the cultural revolution in China....

Anonymous said...

Catherine, can you tell us how the decision was made to pay Maria Geryk such a large salary? Was the committee unanimous in thinking this was a good idea? Was any comparison made to similar districts in terms of numbers of students or of qualifications of superintendents?

Anonymous said...

Actually Maria Geryk is making $32,000 LESS than her predecessor (Rodriguez: 156K + 15K in moving and housing expenses). Why would she not be paid considerably more than her previous salary when she's now in charge of 3 school districts (Amherst, Regional, and Pelham)? There's no way you could get an "outside" candidate to move here for less than that in this kind of a seller's market.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that even though she has comparatively little education and experience she had a tremendous amount of LEVERAGE. That is what she parlayed into a 28% bump.

I think she threatened to walk.

The irony is that Amherst contributes 78% of the funding for the regional schools but has only 5 seats on the SC. Note that 4 of 5 of these seats voted against the long term posting of Geryk. Churchill, the only Amherst vote for her, was the guy whose name is on the fiscally irresponsible contracts that have generated a good part of this mess.

Put credit where credit is due!

Anonymous said...

"Anyone who differs from the established orthodoxy (i.e. shows leadership ability) is run out of the profession."

Now there's another level headed comment from Ed. This kind of writing smacks of 8th grade thinking. I wouldn't tolerate it for a minute on a student paper, from a middle schooler let alone a high school student.

Nina Koch said...

You know, last year, people were commenting on what a great job Maria was doing. Now for some reason, the tide has turned. Here is a chronology of comments from Catherine.

March 2, 2009

I want to start by commending our new Interim Superintendent Maria Geryk for preparing the most thorough and thoughtful data presentation that I've seen in the two years that I've been attending (either as an audience member or a School Committee member) School Committee Meetings. She started this job on Friday, February 27th, and led tonight's meeting in the most clear and organized manner that I've seen this year. I was extremely impressed at how she was able to step into this situation and handle it so well.

March 6, 2009
I do think she is doing a GREAT job in a very difficult situation.

March 17, 2009
I'm very glad that she is taking adequate time to really get questions answered and make sure she has all the necessary information before deciding how to proceed

April 7, 2009
I think this is a wonderful step by our interim superintendent, Maria Geryk, to provide information about our special education services, and I commend her willingness to engage in such an evaluation.

April 16, 2009
I agree that Maria Geryk is doing a great job!

September 4, 2009
I also think Maria did a great job

Anonymous said...

"We're talking about our babies, not making buttons in a factory."

Finally, someone with a soul. Let's just appoint Maria as permanent Super and be done with it.

Anonymous said...

Nina, doing a good job for a few months is different than being qualified to lead a complicated set of districts for 16 months!! At very least, she should have had to go through the same set of rigorous interviews, presentations, and resume review as our previous applicants--Rodriguez, Rodriguez, and Sklarz!

Anonymous said...

Let's give Geryk a chance! I imagine if things are not working out she will be only too happy to move back to her old position or get a Super job in another district! There are plenty of districts that would consider her after she's run the show in Amherst for a while.

Remember the title of this thread???

Or maybe she and Isabella RB could just swap places.