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Public servants paid like public figures? The I-Team analyzes superintendent 6-figure contracts across DFW

Public servants paid like public figures? The I-Team analyzes superintendent 6-figure contracts acro
Public servants paid like public figures? The I-Team analyzes superintendent 6-figure contracts acro 06:36

NORTH TEXAS ( — Despite a $32 billion surplus, state lawmakers were unable to pass a statewide raise for teachers during this year's legislative session. While school districts are doing what they can to increase teacher pay, the CBS News Texas I-Team found salaries for superintendents are higher than ever.

The average salary for a superintendent in Texas is $148,950. The I-Team analyzed contracts from nearly 50 districts and found half includes salaries of at least $300,000.

"Yes, superintendents do make a lot of money—but they're responsible for a lot of things," said attorney Rhonda Crass. Crass, who conducts superintendent searches for districts across Texas, said it's a tough job to fill. The position requires knowledge of school policies, finance, staffing, student performance, and more. 

"Some school board members will look at me and say, 'You know, the average superintendent in this area makes this much money.' And I always tell them, 'if you want an average superintendent, pay them an average salary,' "she said.

Still, Crass admits that high salaries can be a tough sell. "There's a limit to what the community will tolerate for what the board can pay the superintendent."

That's why the full compensation package isn't always clear. School boards will often make the salary public without any mention of other incentives.

Of the contracts analyzed by the I-Team, nearly half include monthly allowances. 

  • Vehicle allowances range from $150/month to $1,695/month.
  • Technology allowances range from $100/month to $2,000/month.
  • Civic activities allowances range from $100/month to $3,000/month.

There are other perks, too. In Highland Park, the new superintendent will live in a $1.8 million home, where he can make $50,000 in renovations, all paid for by the district. Highland Park ISD will also cover whatever taxes are owed to the IRS for living rent-free.

Other monthly extras we found:

  • A $583 "administrative stipend" in Frisco.
  • An $833 "business expenses" payment in Mansfield.
  • A $2,000 "continued employment incentive" in Burleson.

Dozens of other contracts include reimbursements for payments superintendents make into retirement accounts, which can add up to tens of thousands of dollars a year.

There are also several contracts that include rewards for joining or staying with the district. Grapevine-Colleyville ISD's superintendent received a $15,000 signing bonus. Contracts in Aubrey ISD, Birdville ISD, Coppell ISD, Denton ISD, Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD, Irving ISD, Lake Worth ISD, Mansfield ISD, and Richardson ISD all offer longevity payments in the thousands.

In terms of who is the highest paid superintendent in North Texas. It is Dr. Ricardo Lopez, who has been with Garland since late 2017. His new contract includes a salary of $425,000 along with a $100/month cell phone allowance, $700/month auto allowance, a $16,000 annual cost of living supplement, and a $25,000 performance bonus, subject to TEA ratings.

The second highest paid is Dr. Marcell Smith, who joined Duncanville ISD in 2016. He makes $392,000 a year, with an additional $60,000 in allowances.

We reached out to Garland ISD and Duncanville ISD for comment, but the districts did not respond.

Meanwhile, Crowley ISD, Prosper ISD, and Frisco ISD round out the top five highest superintendent salaries in DFW. 

Crowley's school board president pointed to test scores and overall improvement in performance, saying their superintendent is worth every penny. 

Not everyone happy with the high salaries. Tim Hardin, who runs the non-profit Texans for Fiscal Responsbility, says public servants should not be getting rich off taxpayer dollars. 

"I think we should start capping salaries and benefits. We've advocated for that," he said. "I'd like to see all superintendent salaries capped at that of the governor."

He's not alone. This year, state representative Brian Harrison filed a bill to make it illegal for school districts to pay any salaries higher than that of the governor, who currently makes $153,750. The measure did not pass. Even so, Hardin wants to see boards focus more on merit-based bonuses.

"I'm a big fan of meritocracy," he told the I-Team. "When you look at salaries, one, they don't correlate with number of students, if you look statewide. They also don't correlate with things like literacy level and outcomes."

With districts stretching every dollar, Hardin says it makes more sense to direct those funds to the classroom.

"The teachers should be the number one, right? Because they're the ones actually touching the students," he said. "If we're going to take care of someone, I would say the money should be funneled to the teachers first, and it should be pulled from the administrative class."

Click here for the contracts the I-Team analyzed.

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