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Grand Forks superintendent’s pay ranks high in study, but background set him apart

A recent study ranks Grand Forks Superintendent Larry Nybladh's salary as among the highest in the nation, but the experience levels, educations and a small pool of responses covered by the study make comparisons difficult.

Larry Nybladh
Superintendent Larry Nybladh. Herald Staff Photo.

A recent study ranks Grand Forks Superintendent Larry Nybladh’s salary as among the highest in the nation, but the experience levels, educations and a small pool of responses covered by the study make comparisons difficult.

Nybladh’s salary of $217,413 falls within the top 10 percent of the highest paid male superintendents this school year, according to a 2013 study by the School Superintendents Association (AASA) released Wednesday.

The study compares general information on salary, benefits, performance evaluations and other information on superintendents nationwide.

Compared with the rest of the respondents, Nybladh may be a bit of an anomaly. He leads two districts - the Grand Forks and Grand Forks Air Force Base districts - and has been a superintendent for 25 years. He also has multiple degrees, including a Ph.D. from Cornell University. He said he’s never asked for a raise.

“I’m not doing it for a profit,” he said.


Business Manager Vicky Schwartz said there’s a shortage of experienced, seasoned superintendents in the state.

“Often, when there’s a scarcity of a needed product, the product price becomes greater,” she said.  

Salary and benefits

The study covers a wide variety of information voluntarily submitted from superintendents, but comparisons are limited.

The participation rate “reasonably raises questions of whether the data fairly represents the entire population,” said the authors of the study.

Slightly more than 25 percent of 9,000 superintendents contacted responded to the study, but they didn’t answer every question. Thirty-three superintendents in North Dakota responded to the study and 71 from Minnesota.

Seventy percent of respondents were considered leaders of a rural district and about 23 percent led districts of similar size to Grand Forks.

Nybladh’s salary fell among the highest paid superintendents who responded to the study, though median base salary information was broken down only by gender, range and district size.


For districts that fall in the same enrollment category as Grand Forks, male superintendents made between $33,500 and $288,000 as an annual base salary this year. However, the low-end salary may be an exception, as 90 percent of male respondents made $113,000 or more. Female superintendents generally made a little more than males when compared by district size. 

Unsurprisingly, the median base salaries of superintendents increased from 2011-2012 with district enrollment. Superintendent salaries generally increased 1 to 2 percent over the past two years.

In districts similar in size to Grand Forks, the gap between what first-year teachers make and what male superintendents make is also increasing. Last year, a superintendent’s salary was the equivalent of 3.9 teacher salaries, while the year before it was the equivalent of 3.8 teacher salaries.


Schwartz said Nybladh’s salary reflects serving two School Boards and two districts, among other factors.

Total enrollment at Grand Forks and Grand Forks Air Force Base districts was 7,134 this year, with the majority attending schools in town.

Schwartz said each district is actually receiving superintendent services at a discount.

“They are sharing this position between them rather than each district hiring their own superintendent,” she said.


In the study, 90 percent of male superintendents with a district holding 300 to 2,499 students were paid at least $88,400.

The study did not note if respondents led more than one district. Noelle Ellerson, a associate executive director of the AASA, said while she’s certain superintendents in this situation responded, the study itself didn’t address the question.

The Grand Forks School Board approves the superintendent’s salary and benefits package. This year, he received less than a 2 percent raise, which was considerably lower than other negotiating groups in the district but roughly in line with superintendents in the study.

Most board members declined to comment. Board member Becca Grandstrand said Nybladh is a leader in his field and has an impressive background.

“Our district was lucky to get him,” she said.

Experience and retirement

Many superintendents who responded to the study were not long into their careers.

About half reported one to five years of experience, while 2.8 percent had 16 years or more under their belt. Nybladh has 25 years of experience as superintendent.


The number of retiring superintendents appears to be growing. More than 1 in 10 superintendents who responded said they’d been rehired for the job after retiring.

 “This is a marker of both an aging superintendent population and potentially narrowing pool of individuals interested in entering the superintendency,” the study said.

Post-retirement insurance coverage might also be an indicator. Last year, 28.1 percent of respondents had post-retirement health coverage in their employment agreement, up 10.5 percentage points from the previous year, according to the study.

Nybladh said superintendents generally stay in a district for about three years and the shortage of experienced ones extends beyond the state. This, combined with the high attrition rate and demanding nature of the job, narrows the pool of candidates, he said.

“Most large districts also expect superintendents to have their doctorate or to be working on it,” he said. “A lot of people aren’t able to or aspire to have that level of education.”

Although there’s a perception that these salaries are high, none of the superintendents are doing the job only for the money, he said.

“It might keep us in the profession, but it’s not why we’re doing it,” he said. “We’re really doing it because we have a heart and a head that wants to provide public service to children and society.”

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