Superintendents of school districts are like the CEOs of businesses and, as such, need to be paid well for districts to attract the kind of "quality" people needed for the job, say school board members in the three districts in Tioga County.
Southern Tioga School District President Ivan Erway said that Superintendent Keith Yarger, whose contract recently was renewed by the board for another three years, received an increase, but it "really wasn't an increase."
"We transferred the total cost of what he wasn't paying in medical insurance to his salary and adjusted his salary," he said.
"So Yarger's pay increase was technically $2,000 and he is paying 10 percent of his medical, dental vision and life insurance policies, all insurances that, right now, the district pays for every other employee," he said. "Nobody in the district pays for any significant amount of their insurances."
Erway said, compared to teacher salaries, which can run anywhere from $38,000 to $72,000, depending on their specialty and education, Yarger's salary at $115,000 is "actually on the low side."
"In general, as to the value of a superintendent's contracts, it is a statewide issue," Erway said.
In Blossburg, he said, the average factory worker makes $30,000 to $40,000 per year and management positions pay $60,000 to $70,000, according to Erway, who owns Bloss Hardware and a school busing company.
"Across the board, your professional levels are comparable to other job scale positions," he said.
"When I look at it from a wage scale industry, what is the relationship of the executive to the supervised employee?" he said.
"It's always a ratio. All industries work as a ratio. Your salary base versus your bosses and his bosses is all based on a ratio and it applies to other pay scales, it is always the same," he said.
According to what teachers are being paid, "Keith is on the lower side," he said, but "in order to find a qualified person for that position, you have to pay an appropriate wage or you don't get anyone."
"The superintendent is rated the same as a doctor or senior lawyer," he said.
"My opinion is wages as a whole for certain groups are way higher than they should be. Take a superintendent's salary and compare it to a university professor, doctor and lawyer," he said.
When Yarger initially was hired in 2010, after Joe Kalata retired, Erway said the board had a "decent number of applicants, people with experience."
"What it comes down to when we do that is we either get applicants with experience or applicants with no experience who are trying to move up," Erway said.
Yarger had a "minimal amount as an assistant superintendent and he had been an interim superintendent at another facility."
"He hadn't done the job completely, but knew what he was getting into. The ones with experience didn't have the best track record," he added.
Erway said after consideration of all the applicants, "the board as a whole chose Mr. Yarger, and I support him highly. He has done well in this situation," he said of the school consolidation issue.
"It was a unanimous vote," he added.
Wellsboro Area School Board member Glenn Poirer said he and the majority of the board agree that the superintendent "is the CEO of our school district, and it is a $23 million budget."
"We can't have just anybody in that position if they are not competent. You want competent people in there," he said. "We need people to understand curriculum, budgeting and the management of employees."
According to Poirer, who served on the board for 10 years before deciding not to run again in the last general election, the superintendent's job is 24/7.
"I see what a superintendent has to go through. We see the amount of time and effort he has to put into that position," he said.
Superintendent Chris Morral was principal of the Don Gill and Charlotte Lappla elementary schools and was promoted after former Superintendent Phil Waber left in 2010.
"He did have the credentials he needed to become an administrator," Poirer said.
When the district advertised for the position, there were only two applicants and both were internal, he said, adding it did not surprise him that fewer people want the job.
"I think it is becoming the norm because education is becoming such high stakes with the testing and the amount of public scrutiny that qualified people are not willing to put up with it," he said
Poirier said he thinks "there are plenty of people out there (but) they are looking for the perfect situation."
"The way school financing is going, I just think there is not a perfect situation in Pennsylvania, though fiscally Wellsboro is a lot more sound than we were a couple years ago."
He lauded Morral, saying "he has brought a lot of stability to the district. He is very involved. He's a local guy. That is special."
Poirer said Morral got a bump up in salary to $119,500 "so we could keep him."
"He was talking with other districts and we weren't prepared to lose him. It was a no-brainer. You have to pay him to keep him here," he said.
But Poirer said he didn't know if Morral always will be superintendent at Wellsboro.
"I think compensation at some point may become the issue in the long run, because the job is only worth so much and, at some point, it will reach a cap," he said, speculating it could be at the $130,000 to $135,000 mark.
Michael Vayansky, president of the Northern Tioga School Board, said he thinks district population and size determines a lot of how much superintendents are paid.
Diana Barnes, Northern Tioga's superintendent in her second year of a five-year contract, makes the most of the three county superintendents at $123,000 annually.
"We have the largest district of the three, with around 2,300 students," Vayansky said.
Vayansky said he thinks superintendent compensation is "reasonable for what they do."
In order to take on that role, they have to spend a certain number of years as a principal, and the political climate statewide is not overly friendly to superintendents, so there is a reasonable amount of risk for a principal to give up his or her tenure and security to become a superintendent, he said.
"It can be a challenging position where you go from being a principal with one boss to having nine bosses," he added.
Barnes was a principal at the Williamson High School when former Superintendent Timothy Bowers left to go to Montoursville Area School District last year, following a difficult school consolidation in the Northern Tioga School District.
Out of what Vayansky called "a mix" of applicants - some with more experience and some with less - the board chose Barnes because she was an experienced administrator.
"She knew our system and she was aware of our strengths and weaknesses," he said. "We believed she was the best fit for the district."