In a dozen Greater Portland communities, the top executives in local government and public schools are almost exclusively male.

All 12 municipal managers are men. Only two of 12 superintendents are women.

While the gender disparity among the top public jobs is stark, women are gaining ground among the highest-paid employees in public education. In these 12 communities, 55 percent of those who made more than $100,000 last year were female.

But it’s a different story in local government, where the top wage earners are overwhelmingly men who work in police, fire, public works and administrative jobs. Only 19 percent of the municipal employees who took home more than $100,000 were women.

A Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram analysis of 2016 public payrolls for more than 15,000 employees shows that Maine mirrors a national trend, where women are underrepresented in top jobs in the public sector and still make an average of 80 cents for every dollar paid to men.

People who work in Maine’s public sector say this imbalance is righting itself, though slowly.

“I think that, for women, at least Portland has been an opportunity to grow and get promoted,” said Anita LaChance, deputy city manager in Portland and one of the region’s top earners of any gender. “I pretty much got where I got by doing anything that needed to be done. We’re bigger, but I think the same opportunities should exist in smaller communities.”

138 EARN MORE THAN $100,000

The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram this spring requested payroll records from calendar year 2016 in 12 communities – Biddeford, Cape Elizabeth, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gorham, Portland, Saco, Scarborough, South Portland, Westbrook, Windham and Yarmouth. The data reflect the actual amount of money each employee took home in a year, including overtime and other bonuses.

The newspaper’s analysis found that:

In these 12 communities, 138 people earned more than $100,000 last year. The list includes a range of positions – town and city managers, police and fire chiefs, superintendents, assistant superintendents and principals.

Of those people, 58 percent worked in public education, and 42 percent worked in municipal jobs.

Portland alone accounts for 39 employees earning at least $100,000, while neighboring Westbrook had just three.

Thirteen of the 138 people topped $100,000 because of overtime, which in some cases accounted for tens of thousands of dollars in earnings on top of salaries.

While the top-paid employee in each community made significantly more than the local median income, six made more than double that median. For example, Biddeford Superintendent Jeremy Ray earned $141,547, about three times the city’s median income of $46,940.

Many of these top earners have had long careers in their fields. The highest-paid person in the area was the head of RSU 14 in Windham and Raymond – Superintendent Sanford Prince, who made $170,000 in 2016. He started in public education as a teacher in 1981 and has been the head of his district since 2003. While the other superintendents on the list have established careers in school administration, Prince has the most years of experience in his current job.

REFLECTION OF NATIONAL TRENDS

National data on pay and gender representation for these local-level positions are lacking.

A 2016 survey of about 900 cities and towns from the D.C.-based International City/County Management Association found that the national median for municipal top officers was $126,699. In the same year, AASA, The School Superintendents Association, surveyed about 1,300 district heads and reported that their national median salary was $130,683. The median salaries for city and town managers and school superintendents in Greater Portland are almost identical to those national medians.

ICMA also surveys its members about gender. Among roughly 7,000 ICMA members working in local governments full time, 30 percent are women. Among approximately 3,440 ICMA members who are the chief administrative officer of their town or city, just 15 percent are women.

“We know that women make up more than half of the assistant managers in local government, and yet women are still woefully behind in achieving the top job,” ICMA members Heidi Voorhees and Joellen Earl wrote in a blog post on the organization’s website.

AASA found the same challenge in school districts. A 2015 study found that women account for 27 percent of superintendents nationally, only a 2 percent increase in five years. In Greater Portland, that representation is even less, at 17 percent.

“This stands in direct contrast to the female-dominated teaching force,” a summary of the AASA study reads.

PLAYING TO WOMEN’S STRENGTHS

Still, women are better represented locally among the top earners in public education jobs than in municipal government.

In 2016, 44 women and 36 men working in public education in Greater Portland made more than $100,000. Most of the women on that list are school principals and assistant superintendents.

Gorham Superintendent Heather Perry is one of only two women in her position in the area. Perry’s salary came in at $138,537 – higher than Town Manager David Cole, who made $124,287. The other is Scarborough Superintendent Julie Kukenberger, whose salary is $135,000. She replaced George Entwistle last year.

Perry studied to be a high school history teacher and started her career as an educational technician in Cutler. Soon she was teaching middle school students at her small school in Washington County, then she got a superintendent job in Piscataquis County at 32. Back then, she knew few women among her peers in school administration.

“Because it was such a small school system located in a rural area, I was able to have that opportunity,” Perry said, explaining that she had been turned down for administrative jobs in other areas. “I think a lot of that was due to my youth and to some people’s perception that women may not have a strong understanding of finance and buildings and maintenance.”

In reality, Perry said, male and female educators face the same learning curve when they ascend to administrative roles. No one learns how to negotiate a union contract or plan for a school building project during their early teacher training.

“There’s some of those unwritten stereotypes that are underneath,” Perry said. “You have to be a little stronger in some of those areas.”

Now, Perry is in her 13th year as a superintendent and her third in Gorham. Female superintendents are more common, and she has organized a group of them that meets regularly in Portland or Auburn.

She said that shift might be a result of more modern ideas about leadership or the decline in the overall number of superintendent candidates. It might be related to the changes in the job itself.

“The superintendency before used to be more managerial – finance, budget, facilities and buildings,” she said. “Yes, you have to know how to do those things. Now it’s much more leadership and relationship building, and I think that plays to the strengths of women.”

MENTORS OFTEN HAVE BEEN MALE

The municipal side of the same 12 communities was dominated by men.

Only 11 women – 19 percent – were included in the 58 six-figure earners. All but two of those women worked in Portland. In most communities – Biddeford, Cape Elizabeth, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gorham, Saco, South Portland, Westbrook, Windham and Yarmouth – no women made the ranks of top earners in their city or town halls.

In smaller communities, the town manager was often the only person who made more than $100,000 in 2016. But women are represented in varying degrees among their department heads. Some towns have elevated women to management roles in as many as half of their departments.

For example, seven of Windham’s 14 departments are led by women. Other towns had only a small number of women in those roles. In Saco, just two of 14 current department heads are female. The finance director position is vacant, but the tax collector in that office is also a woman. LaChance, who earned $142,490 in 2016, got an internship at the city of Portland when she was studying political science at the University of Southern Maine in the 1970s. She came back to work for the city after she graduated and has held various management roles in Portland over her career. Since 2015, she has been the deputy city manager.

Portland City Hall is a more diverse place now, she said, but all of her early mentors were men. LaChance credited them for giving her opportunities to challenge herself and advance. She remembered an assistant city manager leaving on vacation when she was a new employee in her 20s. He pointed to the inbox on his desk and encouraged her to tackle whatever she wanted to while he was gone.

“There were literally no women in leadership when I started, no department heads,” LaChance said.

Laurie Smith earned a degree in public administration and got her first town management job in Boothbay in 1988. She worked in a handful of communities – Oxford, Boothbay Harbor, Auburn, Wiscasset – before her current position as the town manager of Kennebunkport. The coastal York County town is just outside the Greater Portland region analyzed for this report.

Early on, she didn’t notice the presence or lack of women in her chosen field. An ICMA survey introduced her to the term “glass ceiling.” As she got older, she felt more aware of her gender. Interviewers, for example, often asked her about her plans for childrearing.

“When I started, I’d go into a meeting time and time again, and I’d be the only woman,” said Smith, who is also president of the Maine Municipal Association.

Bangor City Manager Cathy Conlow said she was fortunate that her first mentor made sure his office included a mix of men and women.

“When I started, you’d see women city clerks that really functioned as the manager but didn’t have the title,” Conlow said. “Now they have the title.”

Both women said balancing families with the demands of their jobs has been difficult over the years. Conlow suggested that some might delay advancement in their jobs until their children are grown.

“That is a challenge for a lot of women who want to continue to push their way up the ranks,” Conlow said.

FEMALE POLICE ARE ESSENTIAL

Recruiting women to male-dominated fields such as public safety and public works is also a challenge.

These positions are often well-paid and include opportunities for overtime. They involve physical labor once considered off-limits to women, although gender is no longer seen as a barrier to jobs in police, fire or public works. But high-level positions in those departments also require years of experience, so applicants often started their careers when even fewer women were present in police and fire stations.

Westbrook Police Chief Janine Roberts is the only woman in her position in the 12 Greater Portland communities.

Roberts decided that she wanted to be a police officer at a young age and started her career at the Portland Police Department in 1985. She said she was the department’s first female sergeant and one of the first female lieutenants.

To critics who consider police work to be a man’s job, Roberts said she has seen both men and women succeed in the field – and she has seen both men and women struggle.

“There is certainly a level of physical ability and agility that you need,” Roberts said. “There’s also communication. There’s also relationship building. There’s intelligence. There’s multi-tasking. There’s a lot of different skills that go into being a police officer in today’s world.”

Roberts remembers being passed over for promotions by less senior male officers. She said she always sought out feedback so she could improve her work and be chosen next time. Sometimes, she got tangible and helpful responses; other times, she did not.

Today, the chief said she tries to take time to mentor prospective officers and talk with her officers about their professional goals.

“If our leaders buy into the equal and fair career development approach, we effectively end the gender dynamic,” she said.

Police Chief Ed Tolan of Falmouth, who is also president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said he sees more women entering the academy and then the higher ranks of local departments. In part, he said he thinks that increase is tied to a greater number of criminal justice programs in the state.

This trend is positive, he said, because female officers are crucial in many law enforcement situations.

“Certainly a male officer can’t really search a female arrestee,” Tolan said. “And think about sexual assault. If you’re a woman and you’re the victim of the sexual assault, do you want to talk to a male police officer? Probably not.”

Across the board, local officials said drawing more young men and women to the public sector is crucial to evening out the gender imbalance.

“We need enough women in these professions to begin with,” said Smith, the Kennebunkport town manager. “You could have a group of 40 police officers, and how many of those would make a good chief? Now how many of those are going to be a woman and make a good chief? It’s just a numbers game. By attracting more women to these general professions, you open these doors.”

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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