City principals among lowest-paid school leaders in state
School, union officials say new contract will make salaries more competitive
City schools CEO Andres Alonso, shown during a visit with The Sun's editorial board and reporters, has given the Baltimore system's principals more autonomy. (Christopher T. Assaf, Baltimore Sun / June 28, 2011)
The average salary for city principals this school year is about $108,000, just $2,800 more than their pay in 2008, according to an analysis of school system employee salaries obtained through a Maryland Public Information Act request by The Baltimore Sun.
That leaves city principals — who lead schools with the largest and most academically challenged populations in the state — behind most of their colleagues in the metropolitan area and only slightly above rural counties on the Eastern Shore.
"When looking across the country, Baltimore does not quite measure up," said Diann Woodard, president of the American Federation of School Administrators, the only national education union for school administrators, including Baltimore's. And the leader of the city principals union says many administrators are leaving the district for higher-paying jobs with less pressure in nearby school systems.
Under Alonso, Woodard said, principals have to run a "mini-city." The system transfers duties traditionally assumed by the central office — like hiring staff and budgeting resources — to schools. In turn, they're held accountable for results.
"They have put in place a lot of accountability measures, and school leaders have stepped up, and said, 'OK, we're ready to do that,' but they've not put up the amount of money to reflect those measures," Woodard said.
City school officials acknowledge that principals are underpaid and point to the new pay-for-performance administrators union contract ratified last year as a remedy.
"We have long recognized that we need to pay principals more, so we're trying to redirect resources to do that," said Tisha Edwards, chief of staff for the school system. "In the past, our salaries have not been as competitive as we've wanted them to be, but we have said that there are two categories that we need to invest more in: teachers and principals."
Edwards said that under the new contract principals could make the top pay in the state next year — but that comes with producing results.
"We would argue that while our principals have the hardest job in the state, not every principal is doing the best job, either," she added. "We're not going to pay just to pay. We want great principals to be compensated for the great work they do for our children."
A salary analysis published by the Maryland State Department of Education shows that city principals have trailed behind their counterparts across Maryland for the past four years.
This school year, the average principal salary in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore County is $119,700, officials said, while principals in Howard County make, on average, $130,200. Even Prince George's County, which has a more comparable student population and transferred budgeting authority to its principals this year, has an average salary of $115,000.
The highest-paid principals are in Montgomery County, which has an average salary of $131,000; the lowest is Garrett County, at $75,000. The state average is $114,700.
It was in 2008 that Alonso distinguished city principals from their colleagues across the state by radically altering their roles.
As the foundation of his sweeping reform efforts, Alonso sought to decentralize the system's bulging central office and send its money and personnel into schools. The autonomy plan hinges on the philosophy that school staff, not central office bureaucrats, know how to best serve their students.
Alonso helped establish the model in New York City, and it has been growing among urban districts nationwide. In New York City, a substantially larger district with a higher cost of living, principals make on average $137,000, according to a spokeswoman.
Hampstead Hill Academy Principal Matt Hornbeck, who helped Alonso create the school autonomy structure, said he believes principals are paid enough when compared to most other jobs.
Hornbeck also said that school autonomy has "taken excuses away from principals so that they can have the tools they need to get the job done for kids and support their teachers — and it's working."
"But the real issue is whether our salaries are regionally competitive," he said, "so that city schools can attract and keep the best principals out there."