To Cap or Not to Cap?

Type: Article
Topics: District & School Operations, School Administrator Magazine

September 01, 2023

Should state legislators even consider limits on superintendent salaries given the negative ramifications revealed by data studies?

Only about 5 percent of superintendents across the country had their annual salary capped by state law during the past school year, but that number could change markedly upward as legislators in several states are considering limits on how much school system leaders can earn on the job.

Recently proposed legislation for salary caps is under consideration in Texas, Nebraska and North Dakota. The Texas legislation seeks to limit the maximum superintendent salaries at no more than $153,750, the current salary of Gov. Greg Abbott. The bill made it through a first reading and was referred back to the legislature’s State Affairs Committee for further consideration when the legislative session ended on May 29.

In North Dakota, legislators sought a proportional system in which superintendent salaries would be capped at the equivalent of 1.5 percent of the total revenue received by the school district from state and local funding. That could translate to a maximum salary of $85,000 for some superintendents. The initial attempt to pass the legislation failed, but some North Dakota lawmakers have vowed to bring it back. The Nebraska legislation would hold superintendent pay to no more than five times that of a beginning teacher in the district. As of May, the bill had advanced for debate by the full legislature.

Salary caps generally are viewed by politicians as a means to lower public school expenditures and to lower tax burdens. Proponents of these limits decry administrative bloat and salaries they perceive as too high.

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Christopher H. Tienken

Associate professor

Seton Hall University, South Orange, N.J.