That Giant Sucking Sound


Commentary by Sanford D. Horn

June 16, 2008

A quarter of a million dollars. Lets look at that figure in numerals $250,000. That is the salary, before benefits, the Alexandria School Board has awarded Dr. Morton Sherman to become the new schools superintendent effective August 15.

Effective August 15? Dr. Sherman will be on the job half a month before being bombarded by students, parents, bus schedules, missing textbook orders, vacancies that still need filling all prior to having enough time to unpack his coffee mugs and meet his staff.

This is not Dr. Shermans fault, after all, he needs time to move from New Jersey, find a place to live in Alexandria and wait for the phone, electricity and cable to be turned on. But, this puts him behind the eight ball, something the school system in Alexandria can ill-afford.

As it is, the Alexandria School Board took nearly a year to finally make a decision on a superintendent this after dismissing the first search committee they hired. Thousands and thousands of dollars later, a superintendent is hired, only to accept a position where there is no high school principal or athletic director.

Make no mistake, I am not advocating for all of these high-priced positions in fact, just the opposite. As I said often during my 2006 campaign for the Alexandria School Board, to pay an athletic director, at the time, in the neighborhood of $92,000 is absurd and Im a big sports fan. The point is that we are too top heavy in administration here in Alexandria, and to pay the superintendent a quarter million dollars is outrageous, especially when looking at the comparative statistics.

The Chart of Superintendent Salaries below depicts the Alexandria superintendent earning a salary of $250,000 in a relatively urban school district of more than 10,500 students. Compare that to Washington, DC, an urban school district of almost 50,000 students 4.72 times as many in Alexandria, yet, their schools chancellor earns $275,000. With numbers like that, either the DC schools chief should earn $1,180,000 or the Alexandria superintendent should be paid just under $53,000.

I am not recommending either, but this ought to put in perspective the outrageous salary being paid to a superintendent who will oversee 17 schools, versus the 159 under Chancellor Michelle A. Rhees auspices in DC. Compare Alexandria to Prince Georges County, Maryland, where John E. Deasy earns $273,000 as superintendent overseeing 207 schools and more than 134,400 students 12.8 times as many students as in Alexandria. (The comparisons between Alexandria and the more suburban locales are even more bleak and stark.)

Couple these figures, and you can read the chart to see the region as a whole, with the fact that Alexandria spends more money per student than any other school system in the area, and at the same time, has the third lowest SAT scores.

This should tell us what the real score is. That sucking sound you hear is your hard-earned tax dollars going out the window. Sure the new T. C. Williams High School looks nice, but obviously something is amiss between the walls. Keeping up with No Child Left Behind is fine and dandy, but it isnt much to write home about. The City of Alexandria, via the City Council and the School Board continues to throw good money after a bad educational situation. Spending needs to not just be pared back, but allocated in a more responsible fashion. The children of Alexandria deserve more, but it need not cost an arm and a leg.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria. He has also taught Social Studies in Washington, DC.

Comparison Chart of Superintendent Salaries in the Washington, DC Metro Area

Statistics via WABE (Washington Area Boards of Education) as well as school superintendent offices.