Comparison of K-12 Education Salaries and Student:Employee Ratios for Selected States (2013-2016)

This brief provides data that helps to answer the following questions: How have K-12 administrator salaries changed compared to teacher salaries in recent years in Mississippi? How do Mississippi administrator salaries compare to similar states? Is the number of school administrators per student in Mississippi higher or lower than other states? And finally, how has the ratio of students to administrators changed over time?

Two prior briefs were issued in 2019 by the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) about Mississippi K-12 public education. The first brief issued on April 15, 2019, “Fewer Students, Fewer Teachers, More Outside-the-Classroom Spending,” provided information regarding how much has been spent on various areas within K-12 public education in Mississippi. The second brief issued on November 18, 2019, “Mississippi Ranks Among Highest in the South for K-12 Outside-the-classroom Spending,” provided information on how Mississippi compared in spending to other Southern states. Both can be found on the OSA website. This brief provides information regarding average annual salaries and number of employees for some key education positions in Mississippi and how they compare to other selected Southern states.

  • Over time, the number of deputy superintendents increased while the student population and all other reviewed positions decreased.
  • Within Mississippi, superintendents, deputy superintendents, and assistant principals received higher dollar salary increases on average than classroom teachers from fiscal year 2013 through fiscal year 2016.
  • The ratio of teachers to administrators in Mississippi is similar to the other sampled states.
  • The ratio of students to superintendents is significantly lower in Mississippi than in other similar states, meaning there are fewer students and more superintendents compared to other states.

To answer the questions posed by this brief, OSA examined the salaries and the number of teachers, assistant principals, principals, deputy superintendents, and superintendents. It also reviewed the ratio of the number of students to the number of employees in each of these positions. We chose these positions to review because they were included in most state’s annual education reports.

OSA tried to obtain data for these positions from all of the Southern states but found acquiring some of that data challenging. OSA auditors were unable to use US Department of Education salary data because the federal government does not distinguish between superintendents and clerical staff salaries. The lack of differentiation prevents accurate salary comparisons at a national or regional level using federal Department of Education data. OSA then requested this data directly from the other Southern states. Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia were the only Southern states where this data was obtainable in a format that allowed comparison. For example, some states did not calculate average salaries, classified positions differently than the states in this report, or only had data for the most recent year available. Annual reports did not always contain useful comparative data, either. The Tennessee Department of Education does not calculate average salaries for assistant principal and deputy superintendent, but all other data was available.

In addition to average annual salaries for the selected positions, OSA analyzed additional data such as student average daily attendance, full-time equivalents (FTEs) by position, and student ratios by selected positions from fiscal year 2013 through fiscal year 2016.

For purposes of this report, when discussing the “number of employees” holding each position, OSA used full-time equivalents (FTEs) because it is a more accurate comparison and takes into account those who may only work part-time. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, an FTE is the number of regular straight-time hours (i.e., not including overtime or holiday hours) worked by the employees divided by the number of compensable hours applicable to the fiscal year. Number of personnel, or headcount, is the number of persons employed.

Data from 2016 were the most recent data available for the selected states.

Within Mississippi, for those five positions OSA reviewed, the average annual salary increase was highest for superintendents and lowest for principals. Teachers received the second lowest average dollar increase.

The following table shows the comparison between the percentage increase and the dollar increase over the four years being compared.

Average annual salaries show Mississippi classroom teachers and superintendents are least paid compared to their counterparts in other states. For the other administrative positions, Mississippi ranks toward the middle between the high salaries in Texas and the low salaries in West Virginia. Table 2 summarizes the outcome of this comparison by position.

The proportion of teachers to administrators is similar across all states studied. Of the population evaluated, classroom teachers make up the majority of FTEs positions in all states (between 94% and 95%).

As a percentage of all FTEs studied, Mississippi classroom teacher FTEs represented 94%, as did teachers in Texas and West Virginia. Just slightly higher, classroom teachers in Tennessee accounted for 95% of all the positions analyzed.

Superintendent FTEs decreased in Mississippi (3.22%), possibly due to consolidations or part-time superintendents. In Tennessee and West Virginia, there was no change, and Texas saw a decrease in superintendent FTEs of 1.26 percent.

Mississippi’s student to employee ratios (the number of students each employee was responsible for) were lower over time for four of the five positions, except superintendents. This means that each of the positions with lower student ratios are responsible for fewer students per person over time.

These ratios are based on average daily attendance (ADA) numbers and the FTEs for each of the positions in the table.

In short, while the number of students continued to decline in Mississippi, there were not always commensurate declines in the number of administrative positions, and in some cases, administrative employees appear to have been added. The most notable change is the increase in the number of deputy superintendents per student from FY 2013 to FY 2016. The number of students under the control of each superintendent actually increased over time, and this may be due to district consolidations, though those clearly did not reduce the number of deputy superintendents.

Mississippi has the lowest ratio of students for each superintendent compared to other states, meaning Mississippi superintendents are in charge of educating fewer students than in surrounding states. Of the four states, Mississippi has the second highest student ratio for classroom teachers, meaning each teacher has more students in their classroom.

While the data available for this report was limited by what could be obtained from other states, the report suggests interesting trends.

Mississippi needs to do a better job of controlling administrative costs. Average annual salaries in Mississippi increased each year for most of the positions reviewed, with the highest dollar amount of annual increase for higher-level positions such as superintendents, deputy superintendents and assistant principals, not teachers. While superintendents may be the lowest paid among the selected states, Mississippi paid their superintendents the highest average annual salary increases. Mississippi also has more superintendents than other states when compared to the student population. In the selected state comparison of student ratios, Mississippi superintendents had the lowest of all four states.

Deputy superintendents not only received the second highest average annual salary increase in Mississippi, but there was also an increase in deputy superintendents to students over time, while most positions were tracking the decline in student attendance.

We see in the data that Mississippi is not really an extreme outlier compared to any state, with perhaps the exception of the number of superintendents to students. This is encouraging in a sense, but we also cannot dismiss the possibility that the limited numbers of states we sampled also have similar challenges to us.

For next steps, the information presented shows that one can learn a great deal from statewide, aggregate data like what OSA has produced. To fix the problems revealed by the data, though, individual districts must eliminate unnecessary spending and put more money into the classroom. In order to do this, a detailed examination of each district’s spending is needed. To that end, OSA is launching a pilot project with three school districts where we will partner with nationally-recognized education data analysts to find unnecessary administrative spending. We will be comparing the three districts’ budgets to benchmarks around the country and will also be looking for duplication and waste. The hope is that we will help these three school districts maximize their resources and dedicate as much money as possible to interventions that improve student performance. It is also hoped that the lessons we learn from this project will help other districts do the same.

  • Mississippi should do a better job of comparing our administrative spending to other states. Data need to be watched closely and our state should make policy adjustments over time to put more resources into the classroom.
  • Mississippi should focus on incentives to keep teachers and the employees who directly interact with students in the classroom, while being aware of how their average dollar salary increases compare to the dollar increases in administrator salaries.
  • Mississippi should improve how we adjust salaries for teachers and administrators, allowing us to remain competitive in the region.