Maine’s private school leaders can make as much as twice the salary as public school principals

Analysis of IRS filings shows heads of town “academies” earn more than principals at traditional public schools.
Aerial view of the Fryeburg Academy campus.
Fryeburg Academy. Credit: Facebook

Nonprofit filings show that the headmasters at many of Maine’s private schools — including those that receive most of their student funding from public tax dollars — are paid as much as twice as much as the principals of traditional public schools in the state.

More than 80% of students at all of the so-called “Big 11” academies attend these private schools using public tuition reimbursement, offered when their home district lacks a public high school.

Several of these schools have enrollments that are 95% to 99% publicly funded, according to a state memo circulated last year and obtained through a public records request. While these schools must also fundraise privately for the remainder of their budgets, public funds still make for a major contributor to the schools’ budgets.

The Maine Monitor gathered 2021-22 data on public school salaries from the state Department of Education and private school data from their fiscal year 2019 and 2020 nonprofit filings with the Internal Revenue Service, in what’s known as Form 990, compiled through ProPublica’s nonprofit explorer and GuideStar.

A Maine Monitor analysis shows that for these years, Maine public school principals made less than half as much as their private school headmasters, while public school superintendents made about two-thirds as much. 

The “Big 11’’ are often called 60-40 schools, because at least 60% of their students are funded through public tuition. Among the “Big 11,’’ headmaster salaries range from $283,127 to just under $87,000 in base pay.

The salaries are often enhanced with other forms of compensation, including in some cases on-campus housing and retirement benefits.

The highest-paid headmaster of one of these publicly funded Maine private schools is Erin Mayo of Fryeburg Academy, where the student body is 98.5% publicly funded. Mayo announced recently that she will step down after the 2022-23 school year. 

The highest-paid head of any Maine private school where salary data was available is Geoff Wagg of Waynflete School in Portland, at $344,862 for fiscal year 2020. School communications director Rand Ardell said Waynflete currently has 13 publicly funded students for the upcoming school year, covering just over 2% of their total enrollment of 582.

Below is a chart with data for the “Big 11” schools.


Annie Ropeik

Annie Ropeik is an independent climate journalist in Camden. She previously reported for Spectrum News Maine in Portland and spent about a decade as a local public radio reporter in Alaska, Delaware, Indiana and New Hampshire. Her award-winning energy and environment reporting has appeared in Energy News Network and Inside Climate News and on NPR, the CBC and podcasts such as Outside/In and Living on Earth. A Maryland native and Boston University graduate, Annie serves on the board of the Society of Environmental Journalists.
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