It Pays to be Super

Alpha News takes a look at superintendent salaries, and work done.


ST. PAUL, Minn. – In April, the St. Paul Public School District signed Dr. Joe Gothard to a three-year deal with an annual salary of $232,000.

As per the Pioneer Press, that is a bump of $36,800 from his previous contract from his time as the superintendent of the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School district. According to data from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), Gothard’s contract with St. Paul will make him the highest-paid superintendent in the state.

For the 2016-2017 school year, the Minnetonka Public School District had the highest paid superintendent. Dr. Dennis Peterson made $228,358 overseeing the district, which had a 96.1 percent four-year graduation rate for its 2015-2016 senior class of 698 students.

Minneapolis Public School District comes in second, with Superintendent Ed Graff made $225,000 in his first year in charge of the district. The 2015-2016 data on graduation rates is therefore to be applied to his predecessor, Bernadeia Johnson – who resigned in November 2015, and interim Superintendent Michael Goar. Minneapolis had a 67.1 percent graduation rate out of a total senior class of 2,378 students.

Depending on the individual person’s contract, the superintendent of a district may hold a number of positions within the district. MDE said that it is impossible to separate out the compensation earned purely in a person’s capacity as a superintendent.

“Our data analytics team also cautions that because what is reported is contract salary for the individual, this may include superintendent salary plus principal salary (or any other combination of roles the individual fills within the district) and does not necessarily represent the amount the individual was paid for their position as superintendent,” said Kathryn Olson, MDE’s data practices compliance official.

Five school districts had two lines of conflicting lines of data for their superintendents’ salaries and weeks of work in the contract. The following visualizations include the top 100 districts by superintendent salaries. However, the St. Paul Public, Monticello Public, Westonka Public, and South Washington County school districts were not included in the 100 due to conflicting data from the MDE. An Excel file of data for the top 100 can be downloaded here, and also notes the discounted data. MDE’s data team did not respond to requests for clarification in time for publication.

Blue dots represent public school districts, yellow dots are charter schools, and red dots are alternative or nontraditional schools. The alternative and nontraditional schools serve students with special needs or other learning or behavioral challenges. The larger a dot, the larger its 2015-2016 total senior class.

Data on superintendent salaries and weeks worked is from the 2016-2017 school year, and senior class size and four-year graduation rate data is from the 2015-2016 school year. In both cases, this is the most recent data available from MDE.

Of the 100 school districts with the highest paid superintendents, only Red Lake County Central Public Schools and Kenyon-Wanamingo School District had a 100 percent four-year graduation rate. These two districts had a combined senior class of 95 students in 2015-2016, and their superintendents earned a combined $295,180 for the 2016-2017 school year.

Forty-six districts had four-year graduation rates above 90 percent, while seven, including Minneapolis, had rates below 70 percent. Of these, four were alternative school districts, and the remaining three were public schools. Red Lake Public School District performed the worst, with only 21 students of their 93 person senior class graduating on time in 2016. This district serves the area of Red Lake, Redby, Ponemah, and Little Rock. The district had a four-year graduation rate equal to or worse than three alternative school districts.

“Educational programs in our schools are designed to meet all state and national standards, and at the same time integrate Red Lake Nation Ojibwe language, culture and history,” says a letter from superintendent Anne Lundquist on the district website.

Lundquist offered her resignation in February, after just signing a new contract in November 2016, reports Red Lake Nation News. Her last day will be June 30 this year. She will make $138,000 for the 2016-2017 school year, 89th among all Minnesota school districts.

Peterson and Lundquist both worked a full 52 weeks of work in a year. This is not the case for all districts, and Graff is one of eight superintendents to be registered as having less than 40 weeks of work in their contract by MDE. Another 11 districts have their superintendents work for between 40 and 50 weeks of the year.


All districts with superintendents who worked less than 50 weeks in the year are public school superintendents. Graff is the highest paid of those, working 39 weeks for his $225,000 salary according to MDE. Orono Public School District Superintendent Dr. Karen Orcutt worked 37 weeks and earned a total of $193,733, the second highest compensation after Graff for superintendents who worked less than 50 weeks.

Intermediate School District 287 Superintendent Sandra Lewandowski is the highest paid non-public schools superintendent. She earned $204,355 for leading the alternative district by working all 52 weeks of the year. In 2015-2016, the district had a senior class size of 331 students, 26.9 percent of whom graduated in four years. Her compensation ranks her sixth among all superintendents in the state.

Hmong College Prep Academy Superintendent Dr. Christianna Hang was the highest-paid charter school superintendent. She made $162,472 for the 2016-2017 school year, working all 52 weeks according to MDE, ranking 53rd in total salary. In 2015-2016 the district saw 75.8 percent of its 95 student senior class graduate in four years.

Alpha News attempted to get a comment from St. Paul Public Schools about the contract negotiating process for Gothard. The district did not return the request for comment in time for publication.

Anders Koskinen