Montgomery County Board of Directors Sets Superintendent Salary of $240,000 | Education
CHRISTIANSBURG — The Montgomery County School Board voted 4-2 last week to announce a $240,000 annual salary for its next superintendent, as the search for the position continues.
The salary announcement decision came near the end of the public portion of a specially convened meeting on Tuesday. The board was joined by recently contracted search firm GR Recruiting, who covered and answered questions about the upcoming process to find a new superintendent.
The advertised salary of $240,000 is higher than the base salary of $217,542 listed in former Superintendent Mark Miear’s last contract with Montgomery County Public Schools. Miear, who had spent just over six years with the district, was fired in March following a unanimous board vote.
Council members Sue Kass and Jamie Bond voted against the announced amount. Board member Dana Partin was absent from the recent meeting.
The debate over the announced amount involved disagreements about how much influence superintendent salaries elsewhere in the state and country should have on MCPS’s salary.
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Some of those who voted in favor of the announced amount argued that the district should come up with as competitive a figure as possible, especially given the timing of the research. Some also talked about how regional differences in wages for certain jobs have blurred over the years.
Basing salary too heavily on the immediate area may prevent the district from attracting the most ideal candidates, said board member Penny Franklin.
“If we’re doing a national search, we have to look at what’s happening across the country,” she said.
Franklin expanded on his points later in the discussion.
“We’re in a situation, if nothing else because of the timing of the search, where the pool will be shallow or may be shallow,” she said. “To be able to get people to watch us, we’re going to have to put a carrot there. Come on friends, these magnificent Blue Ridge Mountains do not necessarily attract everyone.
“If we’re going to get the best possible candidate, we’re going to have to offer them something that gets them into Montgomery County. In the end, it’s the money.
Franklin acknowledged that the overall cost of living in Southwest Virginia might be lower than in more urban and metropolitan areas of the country.
“But it’s climbing every day, like everywhere else in the country,” she said. “I do not see [us] play with that at this point.
Board member Linwood Hudson echoed some of Franklin’s points and referenced his experience in his own field of work.
“In the software industry, we’re seeing national wages increasingly have an effect on local hiring,” Hudson said. “Because that’s what the world is now. I think we want to be competitive.
Among the documents provided to board members for the recent discussion was a table showing the salaries of superintendents from a number of districts in the state and other parts of the country as far as Montana and into the Seattle area.
The estimated average superintendent base salary for the 19 districts is $240,803 for the current school year. Factoring in a 5% increase for the 2022-23 school year – MCPS has pursued an average salary increase of 5% for its employees – the average for all of these districts is $246,145.
Board members who voted against MCPS’s announced amount of $240,000 questioned whether it made sense to pay anyone hiring in the district a salary comparable to larger areas where the cost of living is higher than in Southwest Virginia.
Kass commented on the $332,850 the Superintendent of Shoreline Public Schools in Washington State would earn next school year with a 5% raise.
“I can’t even come close to compare us to this area,” she says.
Kass, a former teacher who now works in human resources at Virginia Tech, said she looks at salaries in and around Blacksburg when hiring and interviewing prospects for jobs in town. When hiring at the Arlington office, she said she looked at what was competitive in that field.
“I don’t look at what’s competitive in Washington State when I’m trying to figure out how to pay people in Blacksburg,” Kass said, adding that even the salary ranges between Southwest and North Virginia can differ significantly. “Having a national search doesn’t mean you have to pay what they earn in Washington [D.C.] or New York because the cost of living is cheaper here.
Kass also pointed out that the district’s advertised salary would be higher than that of public schools in the city of Roanoke, which she said is a larger school division than MCPS. The District of Roanoke, with a 5% increase, would pay its superintendent $239,243, according to the recent salary table.
Bond echoed some of Kass’ points and said the board needs to be aware of who pays the salary.
“We know here that we can live on a certain salary, but if we were to go to another community, we would have to have a different salary to get whatever the cost of living was and that salary,” Bond said, adding that professionals will quickly realize that it is much cheaper to live in Montgomery County than in larger places like New York. “I think we’re taking away some of the common sense [that] professionals are also able to do.
Another issue raised by Kass was advertising what appears to be a fixed amount as opposed to a more specific range such as $210,000 to $250,000.
“You always want to be in a place of negotiation. That’s my experience as a human resources manager,” she said.
Kass said she had never been in her job in a position where they advertised a fixed amount such as $95,000, only to then offer $90,000 to the actual candidate.
“And they’re like, ‘What do you mean? You said it was $95,000,'” she said.
School board member Mark Cherbaka, however, said the district may have to pay a premium for its next chief administrator to come to the area.
“Just because you ask someone to move,” he said. “You’re sort of starting over again.”
The search for a new superintendent must be completed within 180 days of Miear’s March 17 firing vote. MCPS pays GR Recruiting $20,000 for the work, according to the district.