KOLD Investigates: Superintendent salaries and benefits - Tucson News Now

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KOLD Investigates: Superintendent salaries and benefits

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Money for teachers, classroom supplies and extra-curricular activities attract a lot of attention when anyone discusses education.

But another aspect is brought up a lot, too, and that's why Tucson News Now dug into the salaries of the men and women who lead public education in southern Arizona.

LEARN MORE: Salary breakdown for superintendents in southern Arizona

A public records request returned nearly two dozen contracts from school districts and their superintendents.

There's a variety of district sizes in southern Arizona, so we consulted two surveys -- one from Arizona and one from across the nation -- to put the salaries and benefits into perspective.

A total of 176 superintendents across the state responded to a survey by the Arizona School Board Association and those 2015 results served as our statewide comparison. A 2015 survey by the School Superintendents Association served as the national one and 14 of the 728 responses came from Arizona superintendents.

At The Top, But Not Alone

Tucson Unified School District Superintendent H.T. Sanchez. (Source: Tucson News Now)

The Tucson Unified School District is by far the largest in southern Arizona with more than 48,000 students, nearly three times more than any other district. So it should not be a surprise to see TUSD's superintendent at the top of the salary scale.

H.T. Sanchez will earn a base salary of $270,000 in 2017. His salary is above the median amount for male superintendents in charge of districts with 25,000 students or more, according to the nationwide survey.

Sanchez also gets $25,000 for business and civic engagements in the community. This sort of stipend for superintendents is fairly common, according to both the statewide and national surveys.

The TUSD superintendent said he spends the money on a variety of things: nonprofits he supports, memberships to organizations and gifts or other items he deems necessary to provide a welcoming experience for visiting dignitaries.

"There are a lot of people you wouldn't think come into a superintendent's office that come into a superintendent's office and spend time with us," he said.

Sanchez said the district isn't allowed to pay for these sorts of expenses, so it comes out of his salary and stipend.

He's expected to earn a $25,000 bonus for completing each of the remaining two years on his contract. In the past, Sanchez has donated this bonus back to the district.

Sanchez could earn another $16,200 if he meets his performance goals, according to the contract. He said along with the self-evaluation he completes and the governing board's evaluation of his accomplishments, Sanchez holds himself to a plan outlined by more than 200 community members when he first joined the district.

"I have to stay focused on that plan," he said. "That keeps us moving forward."

TUSD Governing Board President Michael Hicks said the board moved forward a little too fast. He claimed his fellow board members rushed a vote on Sanchez's contract extension before the Nov. 8, 2016 election.

"We should never have a contract a month before another board takes seat," he said.

Hicks said he appreciates the programs that Sanchez has implemented, like Steps to Success which has gotten approximately 400 drop-outs back into the classroom. Sanchez said nearly 80 of those students have since graduated.

TUSD officials said Alanis 'Tay Tay' Borchardt, left, is a Steps to Success program success story. (Source: Tucson News Now)

However, Hicks said there would have been some changes to Sanchez's contract had the vote on the extension waited until the new board.

"The benefits that is being distributed out when I have teachers who have to go to parents for tissues," he said. "I'm surprised we haven't said we need toilet paper or anything."

Sanchez said there's more to his achievements than the Steps to Success program. He cited the district being out of debt, opening two schools and balancing the budget without having to lay off teachers.

"A lot of the things that people said were impossible, we made possible," he said.

He's the longest-serving TUSD superintendent in the past decade. Sanchez said he's stuck around this long because of the community, the students and the challenge.

Searching For A Leader

The challenge in front of the Amphitheater Governing Board is finding a new top administrator as Patrick Nelson is retiring at the end of the school year.

Amphi is the fourth-largest district in southern Arizona with 14,100 students.

None of the current board members served during a previous search, but board President Jo Grant considers that a positive. She said no one will be tied to how it used to be done and the board can focus on the future.

"Education is changing and I think that is what the board is starting to look at is the differences in education," Grant said. "We want a superintendent with different ideas. We're going way out of the box on this one."

(Source: Andreas Klinke Johannsen / Flickr)

The salary range for the position is $165,000-185,000, according to the ASBA job posting. Nelson's base salary for the final year of his contract is $165,441.

His annual gas and car allowance is $16,800, the highest of all the contracts surveyed by Tucson News Now.

Grant said the geographic size of Amphitheater Public Schools means the superintendent has to spend a good amount of time traveling to different schools and meetings. It's up to the board to decide what will be in the new contract.

"We have a big district and then ... you have to go to the U of A, you have to go to Phoenix for ASBA and superintendent meetings," she said. "It is something the board needs to decide if that's a good use or do we need to revisit it."

She said they will have to make the same kind of decision for Nelson's $24,000 annual allowance for business and civic engagements.

Grant said that money helps Nelson advocate for and help pass a $56 million bond override in November 2016.

"By getting out there and networking with our businesses and our community about the wonderful things going on at Amphi, I truly believe it's part of what helped pass our override," she said.

Both Grant and Sanchez agree that a superintendent serves as both an administrator and face of the district.

Nelson declined an interview for our story, but provided the following statement:

"Since Superintendent Nelson is retiring, he defers to his peers in other districts for comment on this story. He has respect for his colleagues and what they are able to accomplish in a difficult and rapidly changing educational environment. His focus at this time remains on finishing the year on a successful note and assisting the Amphitheater Governing Board with the very important task of finding and hiring a new superintendent."

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