2022 | Schools

New MCPS superintendent’s annual pay comparable to other district leaders in the region

Officials say school system’s needs necessitate McKnight’s competitive $320,000 salary

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Monifa McKnight

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Monifa McKnight’s new base salary of $320,000 per year, which she will receive as the new superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, is comparable to the annual salaries of other top administrators in the region and state.

On Tuesday, the county Board of Education approved McKnight’s contract for a four-year term, which officially begins July 1. McKnight has been interim superintendent of the district since former Superintendent Jack Smith retired in June 2021.

With the approval, McKnight became the first woman to lead MCPS, the state’s largest school district, with an enrollment of about 159,000 students and annual budget of nearly $3 billion.

As part of her contract McKnight will also receive $48,000 in deferred compensation per year. Additionally, the school board will pay up to $15,000 in relocation expenses to help with her move from Prince George’s to Montgomery County – which she is required to do by June 2023. McKnight will also receive a vehicle to use “for district purposes.”

McKnight will retain her current salary of $295,000 until the contract starts in July.

McKnight’s new base salary is the second highest of any superintendent in Maryland after Baltimore City, according to data from the Maryland Department of Education for the current academic year. The superintendent positions in the state with the highest salaries other than Montgomery County are:

  • Baltimore City, $333,125 (enrollment of 75,000 in 2020)
  • Prince George’s County, $317,288 (enrollment of 127,000 in 2020)
  • Anne Arundel County, $299,910 (enrollment of 81,000 in 2020)
  • Baltimore County $295,800 (enrollment of 108,000 in 2020)
  • Frederick County $260,981 (enrollment of 42,000 in 2020)

Additionally, District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee was paid a salary of $280,000 per year as of 2021, the Washington Business Journal reported. And Michelle Reid, the newly hired superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools (enrollment of 178,000), will make a base salary of $380,000 per year, WTOP reported.

Montgomery County School Board President Brenda Wolff told Bethesda Beat on Wednesday that as the leader of the largest school district in Maryland, McKnight’s salary makes sense.

“This is a very large and complicated district. We have rural areas. We have urban areas. We have extreme wealth. We have poverty …. I clearly think that it’s a fair compensation,” she said.

Wolff said the demands of running such a large school system require a competitive salary.

“We’re constantly opening up new schools. We’re constantly increasing the number of students that attend each year,” she said. “The size of the county goes into it. The market for superintendents is really tough right now. We have five to eight vacancies in the state right now because the job of superintendent is really tough right now, particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Wolff said she believes that superintendents nationally have had a difficult time during the pandemic because communities often don’t agree on best practices, and the increased challenges mean that superintendent salaries should grow accordingly.

“No matter what you do, you’re never doing what everyone agrees should be done. And yet there was no book on how to do a pandemic,” she said. “I think the job of superintendent in this county would be a challenge for anybody seeking it, particularly if they’re not familiar with Montgomery County.”

Christine Handy, the president of the Montgomery County Association of Administrators and Principals, told Bethesda Beat on Wednesday that she agrees McKnight’s salary makes sense, given the difficulty of the job.

“Being the superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools is a huge job with a huge budget,” she said. “If you looked at corporate America with people who supervise many employees and that large of a budget, it would be commensurate with the work.”

Handy noted that the MCPS superintendent job requires “endless days and nights and weekends” of work.

“All of the politics and the amount of lobbying that they have to do for their employees and for the school district, the communication that is required for the community … it is a tough job in Montgomery County if you do it right,” she said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com