Should teacher and administrator salaries vary widely according to district?

The Maine Department of Education maintains a website that publishes average teacher and administrator salaries for each school district in the state. I spent a little time looking at the average salaries for my area of the state. I would be disingenuous  in saying I was surprised to find a wage gap between neighboring districts. I will admit to being surprised at the size of the gap.

Here is what I found:

Teachers in the Fivetown CSD (Camden, Rockport, Lincolnville, Hope, Appleton) are paid an average of $59,573.00 per year. Administrators (excluding the superintendent) are paid an average of $94,671.33 per year.

Teachers in RSU 13 (Thomaston, Rockland, St. George, Cushing, Owls Head, South Thomaston) are paid an average of $52,402.16 per year. Administrators (excluding the superintendent) are paid an average of $77,484.09 per year.

People choose to work in certain districts for many reasons, including proximity to their home, job fit, and opportunity for professional growth. Money is not everything, but we all know salary is a factor in deciding where to work.

The size of the gap – $7000 for a teacher annually and $17,000 for an administrator – is nothing to sneeze at. Does this wage gap have anything to do with the widely accepted perception of the Fivetown CSD as the superior school system in our area? Does it have anything to do with Camden’s placement as 6th on the list of best schools in Maine?

I do not think there is any doubt that school districts that can offer relatively high salaries generally enjoy the pick of the job market in a given year. The only reasons an applicant would not choose the highest-paying job would be allegiance to a particular district due to family history, proximity to the home, job fit, and perception that professionally the lesser-paying district would offer more opportunity.  Certainly there are many fine teachers – some absolutely stellar – in lower-paying districts, but there are also many mediocre teachers in these districts.

This is no way to set up an education system. Children deserve an equal playing field. Research shows how incredibly important it is for his or her entire life that the quality of teacher a child learns from in the early years be exceptional. Wealthier towns should not be able to buy the pick of the crop for their children. Less wealthy towns should recognize that paying for competitive salaries is the best investment they can make in the future of their town. The state could help equalize the playing field by subsidizing salaries of teachers in lower-paying districts. Then perhaps  the best teachers would be attracted to work in these districts, and relative wealth at birth would no longer determine a child’s future.


Kathreen Harrison

About Kathreen Harrison

Kathreen Harrison is a public school teacher in Maine. She has a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. She has worked in a variety of schools in New York and Maine in a number of capacities – French teacher, gifted and talented teacher, elementary school teacher, and curriculum coordinator for island schools. She has lived in Maine for 20 years and has a particular interest in school reform.