Under state law, public school superintendents are state employees. That means many of their benefits are proscribed by the Montana Code.

But school districts, through their school boards or county superintendents, are free to sweeten the deals with additional perks to attract and keep their school district bosses.

Many of those extras are common to the majority of superintendents, such as paid or subsidized cell-phone service - which is a de facto bump up in pay of around $500 or more per year if the phone is also for personal use.

Others are tucked away in the fine print of contracts, such as additional "personal days" or sick leave, which are sometimes allowed to be cashed out if unused at the end of the school year.

The Missoulian reviewed five contracts in effect in western Montana school districts that represent a geographic gamut - Hamilton to Kalispell - as well as extremes in size, ranging from Florence-Carlton to Missoula County Public Schools.

That review revealed that the larger the district, the more likely it is that the superintendent's benefits are perkier than their small-school counterparts.

In Kalispell, for example, Superintendent Darlene Schottle receives, on top of her $115,000 salary, $330 a month for use of her vehicle (beyond mileage) and more than $2,000 per year for having earned her doctorate.

Meanwhile, the bare-bones contract carried by Target Range School District Superintendent Gary Blaz has very few additional sweeteners - just $700 a year contributed to helping him pay down his health insurance deductible.

Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Alex Apostle's base salary is the highest in western Montana, at $155,000. The same position in Ogden, Utah, pays $153,465 and sits at $168,213 in Boulder, Colo. According to the American Association of School Administrators, the mean - or average - base salary (before benefits) for superintendents of districts with student populations between 2,500 and 9,999 is $146,402, as of 2007-08.

Apostle's contract, approved last July, originally included a flat $1,000 for his automobile and other expenses; Apostle and the MCPS school board were criticized for that perk.

At his suggestion, Apostle is now reimbursed after filing expense reports.

***

It's no coincidence that size matters when it comes to perks and pay. Economies of scale come into play when districts try to lure administrators from other schools of similar size in states that pay far more than Montana typically does.

Dan Martin is head of human resources at the Billings School District, the largest in the state with nearly 16,000 students.

Larger districts have to offer larger salaries, he said, because the job is extremely tough and there is "absolutely no job security."

"All a superintendent has is the contract that is written," said Martin. "And what's also absolutely true is that the superintendent serves at the whim of the school board."

Superintendents know that the next school election could mean that he or she no longer has a job.

Even with a nationwide search for its new superintendent last year, Billings ended up with "only seven or eight viable candidates" for the job, which was filled by Keith Beeman, who came from Chino, Calif.

Beeman's $160,000 base salary is the highest in the state, a two-year contract that also includes 10 personal days and a range of other perks.

Superintendents often take the wrath of the public when something goes wrong, even when "most of the time it's not true," he said.

"Because the buck stops there."

What it all means is that "superintendents are very hard to find," Martin said. "And not just in AA schools, but all schools."

***

Here's a snapshot of the five western Montana superintendent contracts reviewed by the Missoulian.

MISSOULA COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS

  • Superintendent: Alex P. Apostle (third year)
  • Term of contract: Three years beginning July 1, 2010
  • Salary: $155,000 (reviewed annually)

Calculable benefits:

  • Health insurance, including medical/dental/vision, $11,472
  • Contribution to tax savings account, $9,996
  • Maintenance of $295,000 life-insurance policy, $2,299
  • Cell-phone service provided by district, $792
  • Minimum yearly cost of salary and benefits (minus mileage, meals, etc.): $179,559

Other benefits:

  • Per state law, 12 days sick leave per school year; can accumulate up to 100 days. Upon termination, 25 percent of the accumulated days will be paid.
  • Per state law, three weeks of paid vacation.
  • Per state law, mileage reimbursement for vehicle use
  • Per state law, five legal holiday days off
  • Additional 15 accumulative personal days
  • Additional six non-accumulative sick days
  • Unused vacation days will be paid at the end of each year
  • Dues to professional organizations paid

***

FLORENCE-CARLTON

  • Superintendent: John C. McGee (sixth year)
  • Term of contract: Three years beginning July 1, 2010
  • Salary: $86,613 first year to $91,572 by third year

Calculable benefits:

  • Health insurance, including medical/dental/vision, $13,512
  • District contribution to retirement account, $6,470
  • Minimum yearly cost of salary and benefits (minus mileage, meals, etc.): $106,595

Other benefits:

  • Per state law, 12 days sick leave per school year; can accumulate up to 100 days. Upon termination, 25 percent of the accumulated days will be paid.
  • Per state law, three weeks of paid vacation
  • Per state law, mileage reimbursement for vehicle use
  • Per state law, five legal holiday days off
  • Dues to professional organizations paid

***

TARGET RANGE

  • Superintendent: Gary Blaz (first year)
  • Term of contract: One year beginning July 1, 2010
  • Salary: $80,000

Calculable benefits:

  • Health insurance, including medical/dental/vision, $10,480.80 per year
  • Buy-down of health insurance deductible, $700 per year
  • Maintenance of $20,000 life-insurance policy, $24 per year
  • Minimum yearly cost of salary and benefits (minus mileage, meals, etc.): $91,204

Other benefits:

  • Per state law, 12 days sick leave per school year; can accumulate up to 100 days. Upon termination, 25 percent of the accumulated days will be paid.
  • Per state law, three weeks of paid vacation
  • Per state law, mileage reimbursement for vehicle use
  • Per state law, five legal holiday days off
  • Dues to professional organizations paid

***

HAMILTON SCHOOL DISTRICT

  • Superintendent: Phillip D. Santee (fourth year)
  • Term of contract: Three years beginning July 1, 2010
  • Salary: $87,831 (reviewed annually)

Calculable benefits:

  • Health insurance, including medical/dental/vision and $20,000 life insurance policy, $13,333 per year
  • District contribution to retirement account, $6,561
  • Cell-phone service provided by district, $480
  • Minimum yearly cost of salary and benefits (minus mileage, meals, etc.): $108,205

Other benefits:

  • Per state law, 12 days sick leave per school year; can accumulate up to 100 days. Upon termination, 25 percent of the accumulated days will be paid.
  • Per state law, three weeks of paid vacation
  • Per state law, mileage reimbursement for vehicle use
  • Per state law, five legal holiday days off
  • Dues to professional organizations paid

***

KALISPELL SCHOOL DISTRICT

  • Superintendent: Darlene Schottle
  • Term of contract: Three years beginning July 1, 2010
  • Salary: $115,985 (reviewed annually)

Calculable benefits:

  • Annual payment for doctoral degree status, $2,109
  • Health insurance, including medical/dental/vision, $6,216 per year
  • Maintenance of $115,000 life-insurance policy, $228 per year
  • District contribution to 401(k) retirement plan, $7,655
  • $330 monthly automobile allowance, $3,960
  • $40 monthly for cell-phone bill, $480
  • Minimum yearly cost of salary and benefits (minus mileage, meals, etc.): $136,633

Other benefits:

  • Per state law, 12 days sick leave per school year; can accumulate up to 100 days. Upon termination, 25 percent of the accumulated days will be paid.
  • Per state law, three weeks of paid vacation
  • Per state law, mileage reimbursement for vehicle use
  • Per state law, five legal holiday days off
  • Additional 10 days of personal leave (non-accumulative)
  • Dues to professional organizations paid

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com.

 

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