New Chicago schools CEO Pedro Martinez got a pay bump — and will outearn his predecessor

Speaking from a podium inside City Hall, Chicago schools chief Pedro Martinez promises more transparency about COVID-19 data on his second day on the job.
The median salary for chiefs on the list of the 10 largest school districts is $350,000. Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez will earn just under that mark. (Mila Koumpilova / Chalkbeat)

Chicago Public Schools will pay its new schools chief Pedro Martinez $340,000, a notable pay bump from the $300,000 salary that his predecessor Janice Jackson received in the last six months of her tenure.

The contract extends through June 2026, but there were no other details in an abbreviated version posted publicly on Monday ahead of a school board meeting Wednesday. The board officially will vote on Wednesday to appoint Martinez.

In an unusual move, Chicago Public Schools did not make Martinez’s contract public until his fourth week on the job, despite repeated requests for the key details. 

Martinez, who earned $315,000 annually in his previous role as superintendent of San Antonio Independent School District, faced a lengthy to-do list when he started the job in late September, from bolstering the district’s COVID-19 safety plans to assessing the emotional and academic impact of the pandemic on students. 

In a recent interview, Martinez said he was immediately looking to strengthen the district’s safety plan and thinking deeply about how to improve the academic recovery plan.

“The goal for me right now is to have a strong second semester,”  he said in early October. “With vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds now on the horizon, I am optimistic that in the second semester, my full attention is going to be on academics, as well as mental health and social emotional wellbeing because they are all intertwined.”

Martinez’s salary is comparable to that of the CEOs of the nation’s 10 largest school districts. The highest paid CEO on that list is Alberto Carvalho, the chief of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, who earns more than $374,000 a year in base salary running the nation’s fourth largest school district. Meisha Porter, who oversees the country’s largest school district in New York City, earns $363,000 a year in base salary.

The median salary for chiefs on the list of the 10 largest school districts is around $350,000. By comparison, Jackson’s pay bump last December raised her salary from $260,000 to $300,000.

The superintendent of schools in Illinois, Carmen Ayala, earned $256,600 in 2020, according to state comptroller records. 

Martinez, a graduate of Chicago Public Schools and the University of Illinois, started his path to school administration through accounting. After working in the private sector and at the Archdiocese of Chicago, in the mid-2000s, Martinez worked as a chief financial officer in CPS under then-CEO Arne Duncan. That job, he told Chalkbeat earlier this year, “really launched my pathway to becoming a superintendent.”

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He ran one of the largest school districts in Nevada before taking the superintendent’s job in San Antonio Independent School District in 2015. In the past decades, he has been a finalist for schools CEO jobs in Boston and Philadelphia. 

Like his immediate predecessor, interim CEO José Torres — who oversaw the district from June through September — Martinez is a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy, a reform-era training program that has drawn some criticism for taking a business model approach to public education.

In announcing Martinez as CEO, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that his track record and history advocating for children living in poverty made him the right fit — and pointed to San Antonio’s academic improvement and “100% increase” in students gaining college acceptances during his tenure. 

Under his watch, the district went from earning a “C” on the Texas accountability ranking system in the 2017-2018 school year to a “B” the following year, and its graduation rate inched up. However, the percentage of students graduating from high school and meeting or exceeding proficiency on state reading and math exams remained below state averages.

Jesse Sharkey, the Chicago teachers union president, said in an interview with Chalkbeat at the start of the school year that Martinez needed to, from the onset, address missteps in the district’s COVID safety plan rollout and sign an agreement with the CTU, which he argued would allow for clearer communication.

“The real failure of the district’s plan has been the amount of confusion,” said Sharkey.

Sharkey also brought up Martinez’s lack of experience as a teacher or school leader — a fact that the union has emphasized since he emerged as a finalist — and urged him to listen closely to educators and families.

The district and union have still not reached a safety agreement.

Mila Koumpilova contributed reporting.

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