Hawaii school chief’s pay cap scrutinized
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer
The state Board of Education's decision yesterday to conduct a national search for the next chief of public schools reignited a long-standing debate over the $150,000 pay cap on the superintendent's salary.
Board members installed Kathryn Matayoshi as interim superintendent yesterday, and she will retain her $120,000 salary from her job as deputy superintendent. But some board members questioned whether the state could successfully launch a national search with the salary capped at $150,000 under state law.
"I have a feeling if we're going to be doing this, we actually should go to the Legislature and ask to have the cap raised," said Maggie Cox, Kaua'i BOE member. "Our superintendent is poorly paid compared to across the nation."
BELOW AVERAGE PAY
Former Superintendent Pat Hamamoto, who resigned Dec. 31, had been at the maximum salary allowed since moving into the position in 2001. Her predecessor, Paul LeMahieu, was hired following a national search, and he earned $90,000 a year.
Hawai'i is the ninth-largest school district in the nation, but also pays its superintendent much lower than the average for chiefs of large, urban school districts. According to the Council of the Great City Schools, the average salary for superintendents in urban school districts was about $228,000 in 2008. Salaries ranged from $120,000 to $327,500.
"In this economic environment, it may be challenging to increase the superintendent's salary," state Rep. Roy Takumi, the chairman of the House Committee on Education, said at a special meeting yesterday.
Takumi said there have been at least two bills introduced in the past couple of years to increase the cap on the superintendent's salary, but they failed because many believed the salary to be adequate.
There are at least six school principals, according to Takumi, who make more than the superintendent. That's because principals are members of the Hawaii Government Employee Association and their salaries are set through collective bargaining .
"If you want to ... attract the best and the highest qualified, you have to conduct a national search. The salary does become an impediment to attracting top candidates," Takumi said.
Member John Penebacker noted that the BOE Committee on Legislation had considered sending a draft bill to the Legislature to raise the salary cap, but the committee voted against doing so.
BOE Chairman Garrett Toguchi said members could revisit the proposal.
The BOE voted 8-3 yesterday to create a search committee composed of board members to conduct a national search over the course of three months. Members Breene Harimoto, Donna Ikeda and Penebacker opposed the motion, requesting that the board take more time to discuss search criteria and the process before establishing a committee.
"We haven't had time to really think about where we are headed and why," Ikeda said.
Ikeda also said she is opposed to a national search.
"We've done national searches before and they've not worked out very well. I think we need to look within the system, within the state. We have some very able and qualified people right here who are aware of the challenges we face and are willing to step up to the plate," she said.
Matayoshi was appointed as interim superintendent for the next six months, pending a search for a permanent chief.
The BOE discussed her appointment and voted in a closed executive session. The details of the 11-1 vote were later released to some media. Harimoto was the lone dissenting vote. Karen Knudsen was absent for the meeting.
Harimoto argued before the executive session that BOE leadership had not given members a choice in the selection.
"As written, this agenda item precludes us from talking about other options. This agenda item restricts our discussion to only yes or no on Kathy Matayoshi. The board should have had a discussion about the process, because some of us may have wanted some other person to be considered," Harimoto said.