Mike Kennedy
Mike Kennedy
Mike Kennedy
Mike Kennedy
Mike Kennedy

Executive decisions

July 1, 2023

On the TV show "Mad Men," Peggy Olson lamented that her boss, Don Draper, never thanked her for doing her job well.

Draper's famous reply, now an internet meme: "That's what the money is for."

When it comes to thankless jobs, school superintendent ranks right up there. They spend hours navigating political minefields and financial pitfalls while making sure student learning remains the top priority. 

Yes, many of them are well compensated, but most don't stay in one place very long. AASA—the School Superintendent’s Association says the average tenure of a superintendent is about five years and tends to be even shorter in large districts. 

The stress of managing schools during the Covid-19 pandemic and the increasing political polarization among school boards and the community at large in recent years has made the job even more difficult. In a 2022 survey by the RAND Corporation, 95% of superintendents said that the job has gotten harder over the past decade. The superintendents said that job-related stress was the top reason they considered leaving their positions; the next most-cited reason: community politics.

The long-tenured superintendent appears to be an especially endangered species in Florida. Of the 15 largest districts in the Sunshine State, 14 have replaced their superintendents since 2021. Some have retired, some have abruptly resigned, and some have been ousted when elections or appointments by the governor changed the makeup of the school board.

Six districts—Broward County (enrollment of 254,732), Hillsborough County (224,538), Duval County (129,801), Brevard County (74,125), Osceola County (73,558) and Manatee County (51,234)—have appointed new leaders since May 2023.

Five districts—Miami Dade County (335,929), Orange County (208,445), Lee County (99,354), Pinellas County (93,702), Volusia County (63,365), appointed their superintendents in 2022.

Three districts—Palm Beach County (190,567), Polk County (114,483), Seminole County (66,680)—appointed their superintendents in 2021.

The 84,032-student Pasco County district is the only one among Florida's 15 largest districts with a superintendent who has been in the job longer than two years. The job is an elected position, and Kurt Browning has been elected to three four-year terms. But his tenure will end in 2024; he has announced that he will not seek reelection.

Is superintendent turnover a short-term byproduct of the burnout experienced during the pandemic, or has the political climate in some districts become too treacherous for school superintendents to succeed? If it’s the latter, “That’s what the money is for” may not be enough of a reason to attract the best candidates.

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