District school admin costs are sound, lower than charters

November 3, 2022

District school admin costs are sound, lower than charters  

An analysis of administrative v. teacher pay in Arizona district and charter schools


School district administrative salaries are a common punching bag by those opposed to increasing public education funding. Over the past several years there have been references in the media and online implying that administrative costs at Arizona public schools, particularly district schools, are either excessive or are expanding exponentially. For example, opponents to Proposition 208, the voter initiative to tax wealthy income earners at a higher rate to increase public education funding, claimed that “some superintendents make a quarter of a million..”  Politicians who want to evade the harder task of funding education, like to claim funding can come from administrative bloat. Kari Lake, should she be elected governor, would heavily influence education funding.  On her website, Lake states, “Supporters of Government-run schools constantly demand more money for teachers, but routinely take the increased funding that has been provided and allocate it to ever-increasing administrative bloat….administrator salaries have spiked, as have the number of administrators employed by school districts.” 

The Grand Canyon Institute (GCI) performed an extensive analysis of the publicly available data on district school superintendent salaries and the highest paid salaries at Arizona charter schools. GCI comes  to the same conclusion that a report done by investigative reporter, Jim Small, of the Arizona Mirror that accurately and conclusively analyzes the relationship between administrative salaries and teacher salaries at Arizona district schools. GCI then reviewed the public data on charter school administrative leadership salaries and found that there is a much greater difference between administrative salaries and teacher salaries at Arizona charter schools and that charter administrative leaders receive salaries far greater than the amounts paid to district school superintendents regardless of school size. 


The findings of GCI’s analyses include that:

  • Administrative costs for district schools are among the lowest in the country and about 10% of overall expenses, roughly half what charter administrative costs are.
  • Administrative costs in Arizona are among the lowest in the country for district schools
  • Superintendent salaries relative to the number of students overseen is generally lower than in the charter sector.  For districts/charters with between 5,000 to 10,000 students, for instance, the average superintendent earned $165,000 while the average charter head earned  $267,000. Average differences for other student ranges were more modest (see Figure 2).
  • Since FY2017 average charter teacher pay has risen 24% while district pay has gone up 16.5%, helping to close the gap between the two. The consumer price index increased 11% during this period. District school teachers still earn on average $8,000 more than their charter school colleagues, and their benefit packages remain superior to charters.

AZ District to Charter Administrative Costs 2017-2021AZ District Superintendent to Charter Leadership Salaries 2020AZ District to Charter Teacher Pay 2017-2021





The Grand Canyon Institute (GCI) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to informing and improving public policy in Arizona through evidence-based, independent, objective, nonpartisan research. GCI makes a good faith effort to ensure that findings are reliable, accurate, and based on reputable sources. While publications reflect the view of the institute, they may not reflect the view of individual members of the board.

Curt Cardine, a fellow with the Grand Canyon Institute, is a retired educator with 45 years of experience in both districts and charter sectors in multiple states. He has served as a superintendent, principal, adjunct faculty member, company CEO and teacher.  He has written two books on charter schools published by Rowman and Littlefield. He has a Master’s in Organization and Management with post-graduate work in leadership and change. He has been a national presenter at the American Leadership Conference and was regional leader for the Coalition of Essential Schools.  He can be reached at CCardine@azgci.org or (602) 595-1025 ext. 11.

The Grand Canyon Institute, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization, is a centrist think tank led by a bipartisan group of former state lawmakers, economists, community leaders, and academicians. The Grand Canyon Institute serves as an independent voice reflecting a pragmatic approach to addressing economic, fiscal, budgetary and taxation issues confronting Arizona.


Grand Canyon Institute

P.O. Box 1008

Phoenix, Arizona 85001-1008