The Baltimore school board approved significant pay raises last night for all of its principals, saying that attracting and retaining quality leaders is key to successful systemwide reform.
The raises, which go well beyond a 3 percent increase scheduled to take effect this summer, range from about $8,000 a year to more than $19,000 a year, depending on a principal's assignment, performance and level of education.
The additional increases will make principal salaries at the city's more than 180 schools competitive with those in surrounding jurisdictions, where annual principal pay has averaged about $10,000 more.
"This is probably the most critical area that we have in the system," said J. Tyson Tildon, school board chairman.
Some details remain to be worked out with the principals' union, the Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association.
The pay raises come at a relatively low cost to the school system.
Theodore E. Thornton Sr., the system's human resources director, said the price tag is $300,000 to $350,000. The money will come out of the $55 million "remedy plan" funding package provided to the city by the state, he said.
With the 3 percent salary increase scheduled to go into effect July 1, elementary school principals would have earned $60,177 to $80,459; under last night's board vote, they will earn $68,286 to $90,832.
Middle school principals would have earned between $63,786 and $85,289; now, their salaries will range from $75,265 to $99,765.
High school principals would have made between $67,612 and $90,406; now, the range is $82,941 to $109,592.
School board member Sam Stringfield said increasing salaries of principals was "overdue." But he said when it comes to determining pay, some consideration should be given to the size of a school and whether it has been placed on the Maryland State Department of Education's "failing" list.
"It's just harder to do your job when you've got a gun to your head" by the state, he said.
While supportive of the pay raise, board member Michele B. Noel said the school system needs a better overall recruitment effort, including some "innovative enticements."
"We need the entire package," she said. "The salary is just one part of it."
Principals are considered a critical ingredient to improving failing schools, but salaries in the city have lagged behind those in area counties.
The discrepancy in pay has made it difficult for the school system to be competitive in recruiting new talent and keeping pace with the large number of principals now eligible for retirement.
State Department of Education statistics show that city principal salaries range from a low of $58,000 for an elementary school principal with little experience to a high of $90,000 for high school principals who have been in the system the longest. The average salary is $70,617.
Only one area school system, Harford County, pays less. Principals' salaries there average $69,851.
The averages in other jurisdictions are $83,613 for Howard County; $81,552 for Anne Arundel County; $77,780 for Baltimore County; and $76,841 for Carroll County.
Sun staff writer Liz Bowie contributed to this article.