Combat pay for principals

A tentative agreement between New York City officials and the school administrators union includes not only a 7.5 percent pay boost but also a raise of between $10,000 and $15,000 a year for those working at schools designated as “hard to staff” (“New York City School Administrators Reach Labor Deal,” The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 13).

During the 28 years I taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I worked with five principals.  As the student population changed over the years, so did the nature of their job.  It became increasingly adversarial, pitting faculty, parents and other stakeholders against one another.  So I can understand the need to offer principals additional money to accept an assignment at some schools.

But I doubt that more money alone will result in less turnover.  I’m referring now to New York City and other large urban districts. (It’s not that suburban schools don’t have their problems in recruiting and retaining qualified principals, but they tend to be less stressful.)  So much of a school’s performance is beyond the control of a principal.  In New York City, for example, the percentage of homeless students continues to rise.  As a result, it’s rare for principals to remain at the helm for very long.

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4 Replies to “Combat pay for principals”

  1. What does the management organization chart look like in a large urban high school today?

    In the 1960s in my suburban high school (3 grades, 1,500 students total), there was a principal and an assistant principal; these were the only two real managers. There were two deans (responsible for student discipline but no management authority), four (?) guidance counselors (responsible for counseling students re college, jobs, and personal issues but no management authority), and six (?) department heads (responsible for administratively running each academic department but, I’m pretty sure, with no supervisory/management authority over the teachers in the department). And, of course, all the teachers (perhaps 75) and support employees (perhaps 25).

    If my numbers are at least ballpark correct, that was a very steep management pyramid — two managers and 100+ employees with no real first-line supervisors and only one manager below the principal. No HR expert would intentionally create such a steep management pyramid — even in a production organization where, unlike the school, there was little/no daily contact with customers (i.e., students). Add the 1,500 students to the 100+ employees and that principal had to be overwhelmed.

    If large urban high schools today have a similar management org chart, it’s surprising that principals ever last more than a year or two — at least principals who are mentally stable and trying to do a good job. Guess crazy principals and/or principals who don’t care about doing a good job could last forever.


  2. Labor Lawyer: Students today have rights that they didn’t have when you and I were in high school. As a result, principals can’t act in loco parentis. Further, principals have to be far more involved in community affairs than in the past. Education, therefore, takes a back seat.


    1. As an HR matter, the principal has too many responsibilities and too few subordinate managers/supervisors to whom the principal can delegate those responsibilities. In addition to the expansion of student/parent rights, the last two decades have seen — in most school districts — a huge expansion of the teacher-evaluation responsibility, with teacher evals being much more important than previously. Not sure how the evals work in today’s typical large high school. Doubt that the principal does all the evals him/herself — cannot possibly have enough time to do even the most superficial observations. But, whoever is doing the evals, the principal probably is the critical sign-off on the evals. Just doing a fair/thorough/informed annual eval on 100+ professional employees would be more than a full-time job for any one person, probably for three or four people.


  3. Labor Lawyer: Principals have the final authority in evaluating teachers, but unless they are certified in the subject being taught I maintain that the process if fundamentally flawed. How in the world can a principal who is observing, say, a Spanish class possibly know if the teacher is teaching the subjunctive correctly? All the principal can do is observe if the class is engaged, but so what? They are not learning the subjunctive correctly. The same holds true for other subjects as well. My last principal was a driver’s ed teacher and yet he observed my English class. It was a travesty.


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