We appreciate the measured approach taken by the board of trustees of the Helena School District in setting a pay range to advertise for a new superintendent.
After much discussion and a split vote (6-3) Tuesday evening, the board agreed to peg the advertised salary range at between $135,000 and $155,000, which almost exactly brackets the pay package of Bruce Messinger, the previous superintendent whose pay was around $144,000 when he left this year to run the school district in Boulder, Colo.
We expect readers to be all over the spectrum on this issue. Some will say that even $135,000 is a shamefully high number to run a public school district of our size. Others will say we’ll never attract the kind of talent our kids deserve for as little as $155,000.
We understand the argument that tendering a higher salary range might attract a better field of applicants, but we also believe there are several reasons beyond salary alone that make this job attractive to potential new superintendents. It’s not bragging to say ours is an educated and informed community, interested and engaged with our public schools at every level. We’ve never voted down a school levy — a remarkable record of local funding for schools and a sure sign of how much we value public education. That history has to play well with potential newcomers.
Many of those traits also make Helena a terrific place to raise a family, which we think would be no small consideration for professionals dedicated to educating our young people. Add to that the Montana lifestyle — which isn’t for everyone, but for those it suits it offers attributes that money can’t buy.
Board members were also right to point to the ongoing state pay freeze and other signs of a soft local economy in leaving the pay essentially where it’s been as they look for a new district leader.
Too, it’s always easier to add money to the salary range and try again than it would be to interview a crop of candidates, decide none were worth the advertised pay and try to renegotiate lower.
We understand there are time constraints in trying to have a superintendent recruited and hired by the time the next school year begins, and there’s some risk in setting a salary too low for the caliber of talent we expect. Ultimately, though, we believe the person we want to run our schools will be interested in the job for more than just the paycheck, and there’s plenty to recommend Helena beyond money that we expect will result in a strong field of candidates.