BESE and MFP 051117

BESE President Gary Jones, of Alexandria, left, and Education Superintendent John White on Thursday, May 11, 2017, at a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting that approved a revised budget request to fund public schools next year.

Though he hasn’t gotten a raise in five years, Louisiana Education Superintendent John White is the third highest paid public schools leader in the nation.

Education Week, a trade publication, surveyed the salaries of state superintendents and found only the education chiefs in Mississippi, at $300,000 annually, and Florida, at $276,000, made more than White, at $275,000.

The average salary for a state education head is $174,000, according to the survey. Louisiana public school teachers make, on average, $48,587 per year.

The job is fairly high pressured and results in a lot of turnover around the country.

White has been lightening rod for criticism among some communities who repeatedly have called for his replacement. He has butted heads with two governors since taking over the job of running Louisiana’s K-12 public schools in 2012. But White has the fifth longest tenure of any state superintendent.

“We are one of the hardest charging states in the nation on education and we demand a lot from our superintendent,” said Brigitte Nieland, who handles education policy for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the influential lobbying group.

Louisiana has long been plagued with low achieving public school students who score low on national tests. But White has done a lot in Louisiana to improve test scores, the number of graduations, expand curriculums and other markers that show progress, said Carissa Miller, deputy executive director for the Council of Chief State School Officers, the superintendents’ trade association.

A native of Washington, D.C., White taught English in a New Jersey high school with the Teach For America program that places recent college graduations and mid-career professions as teachers in low-income communities. He then worked for administrators in Chicago and New York before coming to Louisiana as the head of the Recovery School District, which took over low performing schools for the state. He then was tapped for the top education job.

White and Gov. John Bel Edwards have been at odds over the best way to educate more than 700,000 students in the state’s public school system.

The governor is usually sides with traditional public school groups, including the teacher unions, Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators.

White is generally aligned with advocates of major changes in public education, including charter schools and vouchers.

Neither the governor nor the teacher unions wanted to comment Friday on White’s pay in comparison to other superintendents.

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White is on a month-to-month contract with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which oversees policy for the state’s public schools.

In his job performance evaluation last month, BESE gave White a grade of 3.0 out of 4. That means he is considered “effective/proficient,” which is the second highest level on the state measuring stick also used to rate public school teachers.

Gary Jones, president of BESE, refused comment on the national pay survey Friday as did White.

He is paid what his predecessor, Jim Purcell, made.

Though White has received positive evaluations during the past five years, he has steadfastly refused to seek or accept a pay boost.

If White's pay had risen the 6 percent per year allowed in his contract, he would be paid about $368,000 per year.

But White told the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget five years ago he would not accept a raise unless rank-and-file state employees got one. Many classified employees will receive their first pay raise in nine years on Jan. 1.

Pay for state superintendents differs broadly based on how they acquired their jobs, according to the Education Week survey.

The 13 education chiefs who were elected make an average $115,000. The 19 who are appointed by their state’s governor pull down an average $158,000 and the 22 who serve at the pleasure of board like BESE earn the most at an average $223,000.

Louisiana is one of nine states that pay state education chiefs more than the superintendent of the state's largest school district.

The Education Week article is available here: 

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.