Principals Approve New Contract In N.Y.C.
New York City principals and assistant principals have agreed to trade in some of their long-standing job security for substantial pay raises, setting the stage for a new era of school management and accountability in the nation's largest school district.
The contract ratified Jan. 20 by members of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators allows district administrators more direct supervision and speeds the process for removing low-performing principals and assistant principals.
Union and district leaders hailed the announcement of the new contract for administrators, who have been without one for four years. The agreement represents "an agenda that is right for our system," said Donald Singer, the president of the 3,700-member union.
It helps "establish a rational managerial and accountability system" between principals and supervisors in the 1.1 million-student district, said Lewis H. Spence, the system's deputy chancellor for operations.
Though the union's membership approved the contract by a 2-1 ratio, some principals are raising questions about the new system, which some say ends tenure as they once knew it.
The contract raises most principals' pay by 33 percent, but requires them to work 12-month schedules with five weeks of vacation rather than the previous 10-month schedule with an extended break. The new calendar and slightly longer workdays will allow principals and some assistants to be paid extra for operating summer schools, Saturday academies, and after-school programs.
High-achieving principals, as determined by performance reviews, could qualify for raises of up to 70 percent, lifting some salaries above $100,000. The agreement also allows the chancellor to offer raises at his discretion for strong job performance.
The average New York City principal's salary is about $75,000, and will rise to more than $95,000 under the new contract, according to the Council of Supervisors and Administrators.
"We are now back to being competitive with the suburbs," Mr. Singer said. "I do believe the exit to the suburbs is going to slow down and maybe turn around."
In exchange for higher pay, principals face more direct scrutiny. Low-achieving principals could face swifter removal if they fail to meet specific goals. Appeals will be heard by an arbitrator within 60 days for principals and 150 days for assistant principals—a process that in the past has in some cases taken years.
The state education commissioner is the final level of appeal.
Some administrators fear that the pact's new accountability methods could be used against principals for political or personality reasons as well as job performance.
"If it's abused, we're back to the same confrontations we had before," Mr. Singer said. "It has to be used appropriately, expeditiously, and is not to be seen as a document that will be abused."
Jesse Lazarus, the principal of the 1,200-student East New York High School of Transit Technology, a technical-career school in Brooklyn, said he was concerned about how the contract would be implemented.
"The principals have given an awful lot to the system," he said. "What we deserve is a fair process."
District leaders, however, believe strong principals will only benefit from the plan, Mr. Spence said. The contract "reflects confidence in the great majority of principals that they can meet the challenge in making the change," he said. "They'll more than survive. They'll flourish."
The contract extends through March 2001, and is retroactive to February 1996. Principals will receive limited back pay in a series of payments throughout the year.
Negotiations are scheduled to begin soon on the next principals' contract, while teacher-contract talks between the district and the United Federation of Teachers are just getting under way. Accountability measures in the principals' agreement may have some influence on the contract negotiations with the American Federation of Teachers affiliate, Mr. Singer said.
Vol. 19, Issue 21, Page 5