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Superintendents' Pay in Oklahoma Involves Factors Other Than Student Enrollment

March 16, 2010 by jenni

By ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Published: 1/25/2010 2:21 AM

Some resemble chief executives of large corporations, overseeing the largest employer in the city. Others have time to coach the boys basketball team or drive a school bus when need be.

Some resemble chief executives of large corporations, overseeing the largest employer in the city. Others have time to coach the boys basketball team or drive a school bus when need be.

For every public school district in Oklahoma, rural or urban or somewhere in between, there is a superintendent, and with that responsibility comes an average payout of almost $97,000 this year.

A Tulsa World analysis of data from the state Department of Education found that Oklahoma's 532 school districts are spending almost $51.3 million, including more than $4.9 million in fringe benefits, to compensate school superintendents.

Here are some findings that stand out among the state's top 25 earners:

* The Jenks, Ponca City and Union superintendents earn more than Oklahoma City Superintendent Karl Springer.
* Millwood Superintendent Gloria Griffin has the distinction of working for the smallest district among the top 25 earners.
Her district in northeast Oklahoma City has just 1,025 students, and she is paid a total of $167,026.
* Locust Grove's David Cash is a close second in the pay-per-capita category, earning a total of $150,839 in a district of 1,604 students.

In addition to his $100,000 base salary, McLoud Superintendent Ronnie Renfrow is paid the highest amount in fringe benefits — $43,195 — of any superintendent in the state.

In a recent study of superintendent compensation in the nation's largest urban school districts, the Council of the Great City Schools found a correlation between the size of a district's student enrollment and the size of superintendent salaries.

You won't find that in many cases among Oklahoma's mostly small school districts.

"When you have small districts you're going to find things that don't look right to you, but look right if you're a school board member in that district," said Steven Crawford, executive director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration and a former small school superintendent.

"In the small districts, you wear all the hats. You're responsible for everything.

"Superintendent compensation is based on years of experience, education, and abilities, and experience, financially, that help districts," he said.

Oklahoma has 37 school districts with fewer than 100 students.

The highest paid superintendent among those is Kenneth Limore. He is paid a total of $93,002 in the Delaware County district of Kenwood with just 69 students.

"I've been here 12 years. I serve as attorney, superintendent and assistant coach for basketball and football," Limore said. "I'm also a seasoned grant writer — that's one reason they pay me more over a lot of districts. We're really progressive here."

The state's highest pay-per-capita, or a superintendents' total compensation broken down by the number of students enrolled in their district, goes to Ronald Murphey, in the western Panhandle district of Plainview.

With only nine students in 2009-10, Murphey's pay of $58,409 breaks down to $6,489.89 per child.

"We lost state aid three or four years ago because our (student) numbers got so low, so we're almost all locally funded," Murphey said. "We've brought up closing several times. We're talking a little bit about it right now. We're not going to be able to stay open forever."

The nearest schools are all about 20 miles from Plainview, which isn't a town, just a school with some trees around it.

It offers prekindergarten through sixth grade, although there aren't children in every grade level this year. And it employs 11 people in all, including five teachers, with a total operating budget of more than $400,000.

"The school is just the center of things. They have funerals here, community things, dinners. Everybody wants to keep things open," Murphey said.

On the flip side, Bartlesville, Claremore, Sapulpa, Mustang, Yukon, and Choctaw-Nicoma Park are among the state's 25 largest school districts, but none of them have superintendents on the list of top 25 earners.

Sapulpa's Mary Webb ranks 109th in the state in total compensation, at $111,075, even though her district ranks 25th in enrollment.

It wasn't news to Webb that her salary package is a real bargain compared to many of her counterparts'.

"Sapulpa has a history of being on the conservative side for superintendent's compensation. We don't want it out of proportion with what we could compensate other certified staff," she said.

Big fish, big ponds
Karl Springer oversees the state's largest school district, Oklahoma City, so it's no surprise that he has the lowest pay per capita at $4.71.

Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard has the second lowest pay per capita, but is by far the highest paid district leader in the state, with a total compensation package worth $256,000.

He oversees a district with a $350 million budget, 41,500 students and 7,000 employees, more than any other employer in the city.

Ballard points out that his contract, which was negotiated with the Tulsa school board when he was hired in 2008, differs from his predecessor's in that it doesn't include bonuses or paid incentives.

"When I was hired, we decided we were going to figure out what this job was worth. This board found out what other urban districts paid their superintendents and we based it on that," he said. "Having worked in all sizes of schools and in a state policy job, I am sensitive to my budget, but I believe I have a fair salary and I think I earn it."

According to the 2008 study by the Council of the Great City Schools, which is a coalition of the nation's largest school districts, the average urban school superintendent salary was approximately $228,000, and the average benefits package was $58,000.

A car or car allowance, as well as retirement accounts, were the most commonly reported perks among their member superintendents.

A package deal
The state Department of Oklahoma categorizes car and cell phone allowances, disability insurance, professional organization dues, housing and annuities as "other salary," said Shelly Hickman, spokeswoman for the department.

Four superintendents are paid in excess of $50,000 in this category — Ballard, Ponca City Superintendent David Pennington, Mary Turner of the Fletcher district in Comanche County, and Jenks Superintendent Kirby Lehman.

Some 22 superintendents are paid $20,000 or more in fringe benefits, which can include health, dental, life, vision and cancer insurance, retirement, and salary protection.

Renfrow, the superintendent in McLoud, has the highest amount of fringe of any district leader in the state at $43,195.

"I'm close to retirement, so I put a goodly portion of it in an annuity, which is considered a fringe benefit," Renfrow said.

Despite the state's salary categories, a variance appears in the way districts report their superintendent's compensation.

For instance, only 45 superintendents in the state have pay categorized as "extra duty," or assuming extra work such as grant writing. But that doesn't include Limore, of Kenwood, who wrote all of the grants for Smart Boards and computers.

Two superintendents actually make more in extra duty pay than they do in base salary.

Russell Hull, superintendent of Hominy schools in Osage County, earns $51,400 in extra duty pay in addition to his $44,550 base salary.

"I was middle school principal and football coach before (I became superintendent). I still coach, so they put my coaching and superintendent pay as extra duty. That's what they've always done in Hominy," Hull said.

John Lazenby, of the Glencoe district in Payne County, is paid $42,546 for extra duty and $42,250 base. He said $4,000 of his extra duty pay is for coaching the high school boys basketball team, while the rest is his superintendent pay.

"I know what you're talking about because I look at that list all the time — all of us are nosy and want to know what everyone else are making," Lazenby said when contacted by the Tulsa World. "I think it's just a matter of how you put it in your personnel report (to the state)."

School superintendents, ranked by total compensation
1. Keith Ballard, Tulsa ...............$256,000
2. Kirby Lehman, Jenks ................$240,492
3. David Pennington, Ponca City........$227,185
4. Cathy Burden, Union.................$207,146
5. Karl Springer, OKC..................$200,632
6. William Scoggan, Mid-Del ...........$185,142
7. Joseph Siano, Norman ...............$182,275
8. Leigh Beauchamp, Lawton.............$177,963
9. Gary Gerber, B.A. ..................$174,245
10. David Goin, Edmond ................$170,550
11. Deborah Arato, Moore ..............$167,295
12. Gloria Griffin, Millwood ..........$167,026
13. Lloyd Snow, Sand Springs...........$164,605
14. Ruth Carr, Ardmore ................$163,347
15. Paul Hurst, Putnam City ...........$156,524
16. David Cash, Locust Grove...........$150,839
17. Michael Garde, Muskogee ...........$150,517
18. Clark Ogilvie, Owasso..............$150,469
19. Gary Johnson, Skiatook ............$149,967
20. Shawn Hime, Enid ..................$146,242
21. Robert Wood, Bixby.................$145,123
22. Ann Caine, Stillwater..............$144,809
23. Ronnie Renfrow, McLoud.............$144,195
24. Gregory Kasbaum, Noble ............$142,426
25. D.B. Merrill, Hilldale.............$142,411

Source: Oklahoma State Department of Education

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

View the complete list of superintendent salaries.

Salary Database: Search a Tulsa World database of salaries for public school teachers, administrators and employees in Oklahoma.

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