Why San­telises is get­ting top dollar

Bal­ti­more school chief’s new con­tract will make her high­est paid in state

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Liz Bowie

When the Bal­ti­more City school board voted Tues­day night to ap­prove a $325,000 salary and a four-year con­tract for its schools chief, Sonja San­telises, the board feared she could be lured away by other school sys­tems.

“With the skill and ex­per­tise she has, other people would like to have her,” said school board chair Linda Chin­nia, in­di­cat­ing that she be­lieves San­telises could be hired away from the district. Chin­nia said the schools CEO had earned the in­crease from $298,000 to $325,000.

The salary is be­lieved to be the high­est salary ever earned by a Mary­land schools su­per­in­ten­dent, ac­cord­ing to state pay data an­a­lyzed by The Sun. She will earn sig­nif­i­cantly more than oth­ers in the state, and just $20,000 less than the Chan­cel­lor of New York City’s pub­lic schools, where there are nearly 1 mil­lion schoolchil­dren. Bal­ti­more’s en­roll­ment is about 80,000.

The vote was unan­i­mous among the school board, al­though two of the nine vot­ing mem­bers were ab­sent. The new con­tract and the salary in­crease will be­gin July 1.

Chin­nia said the board de­cided to raise the CEO’s pay sig­nif­i­cantly af­ter look­ing at salaries in Prince Ge­orge’s and Mont­gomery coun­ties. Prince Ge­orge’s is pay­ing the su­per­in­ten­dent it hired last sum­mer, Mon­ica Gold­son, $302,000. Mont­gomery County ap­proved ex­tend­ing Jack Smith for an­other four years Mon­day, but is in ne­go­ti­a­tions over how much he will be paid. Chin­nia said she would ex­pect Smith’s $290,000 salary to in­crease.

“This is the type of leader we need to push us for­ward,” she said.

San­telises, who is fin­ish­ing her fourth year in the city, has earned the sup­port of the school board, par­ents and prin­ci­pals. She will be one of the only CEOs in the past two decades in the city to re­ceive a sec­ond four-year con­tract. And her ris­ing pay re­flects the com­pe­ti­tion across the coun­try for top lead­ers.

Na­tion­ally, the me­dian salary for a su­per­in­ten­dent with a school sys­tem of more than 25,000 stu­dents is $236,000, ac­cord­ing to data gath­ered by the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of School Ad­min­is­tra­tors. How­ever, su­per­in­ten­dents in some wealthy subur­ban dis­tricts are mak­ing more t han $ 400,000, said Dan Domenech, the as­so­ci­a­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

“So the com­pe­ti­tion be­tween school boards to hire the su­per­in­ten­dent they think will get the job done is fierce,” Domenech said.

While the pub­lic tends to think of su­per­in­ten­dents as glo­ri­fied teach­ers, he said, they should be think­ing of them as CEOs in charge of mil­lions of dol­lars.

Of­ten they han­dle a good per­cent­age of the com­mu­ni­ties tax dol­lars, are the largest em­ployer and are on call 24 hours a day.

A sim­i­lar pri­vate sec­tor CEO would earn 10 times the salary of a school su­per­in­ten­dent, he said. Domenech was mak­ing more than $300,000 as the su­per­in­ten­dent of Fair­fax County, Va., more than a decade ago.

No other su­per­in­ten­dent in the re­gion will make as much as San­telises. Bal­ti­more County’s Dar­ryl Wil­liams, who had not been a su­per­in­ten­dent be­fore he took the job in July, is mak­ing $290,000, slightly less than San­telises is cur­rently. Howard County Su­per­in­ten­dent Michael J. Mar­ti­rano is earn­ing $285,000,

Anne Arun­del County’s su­per­in­ten­dent makes $279,000 and Har­ford’s makes $217,000.

To some de­gree, su­per­in­ten­dent salaries in­crease with the en­roll­ment of their school dis­tricts. Large subur­ban and ur­ban school su­per­in­ten­dents earn more than those over­see­ing small, ru­ral dis­tricts, ac­cord­ing to the the school ad­min­is­tra­tors as­so­ci­a­tion.

Joe Hairston, who led the Bal­ti­more County sys­tem for 12 years, was earn­ing $314,000 when he re­tired in 2012 af­ter 12 years. Dal­las Dance, a much younger, first time su­per­in­ten­dent who fol­lowed Hairston, earned $275,000 a year when he re­signed af­ter five years in 2017.

San­telises’ con­tract also says she will earn a 2.5% an­nual pay in­crease each year dur­ing the four years of the con­tract. In ad­di­tion, she will re­ceive 38 days of paid va­ca­tion each year — and will be al­lowed to carry over 15 days of that va­ca­tion.

Af­ter the vote, San­telises set high ex­pec­ta­tions for her next four years. She said she had the right team in place to se­cure greater gains in stu­dent achieve­ment. In her first three years she had in­creases in achieve­ment in math and English lan­guage arts, but she said there are still too many stu­dents grad­u­at­ing with­out the ba­sic skills they need to get a job.

“The last last three and a half years was the foun­da­tion lay­ing and now we are going for the big prize,” she said, of sys­temwide in­creases in achieve­ment.


Bal­ti­more City Pub­lic Schools CEO Sonja San­telis­eswill be paid al­most as much as the head of New York City’s schools.

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