A proposal to raise the cap on the Hawaii Department of Education superintendent’s salary by $100,000 has garnered support from key players ranging from school board members to local education advocacy groups.

The Board of Education’s Human Resource Committee has made a strong case for raising the cap from $150,000 to $250,000, pointing to national norms and the need for competitive compensation to recruit top-notch people for the position. And the state hasn’t adjusted the cap — the maximum salary a superintendent can earn — in more than a decade, board members add.

Now the proposal is making its way through the Legislature. House Bill 2257 got the green light from the education and labor committees, while its companion, Senate Bill 2806, moved out of the Education Committee earlier this month.

But those skeptical of the increase wonder whether conversations about how much Hawaii should pay its DOE superintendent — who oversees the state’s largest employer and the nation’s ninth largest K-12 student population — have focused too much on stand-alone salary figures rather than what it takes to lead. The contract of the current superintendent, Kathryn Matayoshi, expires this June.

“(The proposal) deserves further scrutiny,” said Rep. Gene Ward, who voted in favor of HB 2257 in its second reading despite his reservations. “Money is not the key issue, but (HB 2257) makes it like it’s a key issue.”

Proponents of the increase often cite a study showing that Hawaii’s superintendent salary is by far the lowest for any of the 15 largest school districts in the country. They argue that Hawaii pays the person in charge of 180,000 students just two-thirds the amount earned, for example, by the superintendent of Florida’s Palm Beach County School District, which serves about 172,000 students. (See below for a table that ranks school districts by size, while also noting the salary of each superintendent.)

Is a raw comparison of salary figures enough to justify the raise? Although the Hawaii superintendent’s salary is tied to the position and not necessarily to Matayoshi, it is worth exploring how her qualifications stack up against those of the superintendents in the 14 other largest districts.

The resumes or biographies of Matayoshi’s 14 counterparts show that Matayoshi stands out in several ways. She’s one of just two superintendents who never worked as a classroom teacher and one of just three who didn’t get a degree in education. (Matayoshi got her law degree from the University of California’s highly respected Hastings College of Law.) She’s one of three who never served as a school principal, either.

At least five of the other 14 also worked as superintendents in smaller districts before taking on their present roles. And many of them tout a range of prestigious national education-related accolades, publications and presentations in their resumes and bios.

Like all the other superintendents, however, Matayoshi does have extensive leadership and administrative experience, having served in key oversight positions in the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and the Board of Water Supply. She also served as the DOE’s deputy superintendent before assuming her current position in 2010.

Most of the superintendents’ resumes, including Matayoshi’s, are reproduced below so that readers can do their own comparisons.

It’s All About Performance

Matayoshi declined to comment for this story.

But BOE member Brian DeLima, who sits on the board’s Human Resources Committee and has long supported the possible pay increase, emphasized that Matayoshi’s performance justifies a raise.

The board gave her the top rating, “exceptional”, in her annual job performance evaluation last year, largely because of progress on the DOE’s seven-year Strategic Plan that she helped develop and implement. Board members also pointed to major milestones achieved under Matayoshi’s recent leadership, including the ratification of a four-year contract with the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the recuperation of the state’s Race to the Top grant and the U.S. Department of Education’s approval of the DOE’s new performance and achievement system.

DeLima stressed that a background in education isn’t always integral to the job of superintendent but that it should be a top consideration for the board when it searches for the DOE’s next leader.

“(Matayoshi) brings a skill set that is particular to her which I think has served her well in her role of superintendent,” he said. “When somebody gets the job it’s not (because of) what they look like on paper — it’s what they’ve done on the job they’ve been hired for.”

“The proof is in the pudding.”

DeLima called the current $150,000 cap “arbitrary,” saying it “handcuffs” the state from paying its school administrators equitably. Unlike the superintendent, many principals in the state are tied to collective bargaining agreements, and some even make more than Matayoshi, who earned $142,500 last year. The 13 highest-paid high school principals can make $5,400 more than the superintendent.

The current cap, DeLima said, hampers the state’s ability to recruit top talent for managerial roles, such as the assistant and district superintendent positions that earn fixed percentages of whatever the statewide superintendent makes.

He added that the board will be prudent before approving any increase in the cap and use a deliberate process to decide how much the superintendent deserves to earn. The cap, after all, reflects the maximum amount the state could pay the superintendent, not necessarily that person’s actual salary.

And BOE Chairman Don Horner pointed out in testimony that the Hawaii Legislature already approved increasing the cap to $250,000 in 2010, although then-Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed the bill.

Ward said he’d rather see the superintendent earn a base pay of, say, $150,000 with the possibility of earning more based on a set of performance measures.

“I wouldn’t mind paying more than that ($250,000) if we become the best educational system in the U.S.,” he said. He added that most public servants — such as the governor, legislators and other department heads — make relatively little and aren’t “in it for the money.”

Size & Salary Rankings

The earnings of superintendents in the largest school districts, ranked by the number of students served, courtesy of recent data from Council of the Great City Schools:

Ranking School District Salary Additional Compensation
1 New York City Public Schools $250,000
2 Los Angeles Unified School District $300,000 Car/driver, bonus if student and graduation rates rise
3 Chicago Public Schools $250,000
4 Miami-Dade County Public Schools $275,000-$320,000
5 Clark County School District (Las Vegas, Nevada) $250,000 Life insurance; paid $4,000 after hours pay; 31 days vacation, car allowance
6 Broward County Public Schools (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) $290,000 $77,800
7 Houston Independent School District $300,000
8 Hillsborough County Public Schools (Tampa, Florida) $257,958
9 Hawaii Public Schools $150,000
10 Orange County Public Schools (Orlando, Florida) $230,000
11 Fairfax County Public Schools (Fairfax, Virginia) $292,000 Deferred comp $15,000
12 Palm Beach County School District (Palm Beach, Florida) $225,000
13 Gwinnett County Public Schools (North Atlanta, Georgia) $387,934 $18,000 transportation allowance; retirement supplement
14 Dallas Independent School District $328,000 Up to $75,000 per annum performance bonus, etc
15 Wake County Schools (Raleigh, North Carolina) $275,000 $16,500 for retirement, etc

 

Resumes

A collection of resumes for nine of the 15 superintendents, including Matayoshi’s, alphabetically by school district name:

 

Matayoshi’s resume:

 

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