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Published in Print: August 7, 2002, as Survey Finds Little Pay Advantage for Principals

Survey Finds Little Pay Advantage for Principals

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Here's a trick question: If an experienced teacher makes $43,000, and a new administrator makes $43,700, who earns more? The administrator's income might seem slightly higher, but the teacher actually makes more per day, given that the former works 12 months a year, and the latter works 10.

That's the math problem Robert P. Grimesey faced when he became the superintendent of Virginia's Alleghany County schools last year. For the 46- year-old schools chief, the implication was clear: "The level of interest in serving as a future administrator was predictably low."

Administrator groups say the results of a national survey to be released this week show Alleghany County isn't the only place where the financial rewards for becoming an administrator have been lacking.

In its annual report tracking salaries and wages paid for 33 different public school positions, the Educational Research Service matches up the average daily rate paid to novice principals with that paid to veteran teachers.

Overall, the administrators fared better in such comparisons, but often not by much. For instance, the daily rate for teachers was $225.89, and for high school assistant principals it was $255.13, a 13 percent difference. At the elementary school level, the gap narrowed to 4 percent.

The Arlington, Va.-based ERS defined an experienced teacher as one whose salary was at the 50th percentile nationally—meaning that half the teachers in the sample made more, and half less. A novice administrator was defined as being in the 25th percentile. Based on mail surveys returned by a representative sample of 687 districts, the figures are for the 2001-02 school year.

Organizations representing administrators say what is called "salary compression" is partly to blame for the difficulty many districts are facing as they try to fill leadership positions.

'Clear Disincentives'

"There are clear disincentives to make the move from classroom teaching to administration," said Vincent L. Ferrandino, the executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. "You take into account the additional responsibilities, the longer work year, the pressures that are being placed on principals around accountability and testing, and then you add to that the fact that the financial reward isn't that great."

Mr. Ferrandino's group is one of seven represented on the board of the ERS, a nonprofit organization created in 1973 to carry out such analyses. Officials of the educational administration groups argue that principals' salaries must be increased to entice more teachers into administration.

That's what Mr. Grimesey's 3,000-student district did. When he became superintendent, he said, six of his 17 administrators earned less than the daily rate for teachers at the top of the system's salary scale. What's more, teachers had so little desire to become principals that just six of his 240 current teachers had earned state credentials to hold the jobs.

But this summer, the district began phasing in a four-year plan that bases principals' pay on a formula indexed to the top of the teachers' salary schedule. While the change might encourage more faculty members to apply for administrator jobs, Mr. Grimesey says many districts in the region still pay principals more.

"Our scale lacked fairness, and [the change] is intended only to address the fairness issue," Mr. Grimesey said. "We still know that we are far short on the competitiveness issue."

For Nancy Moga, the principal at Callaghan Elementary School, it means that her daily pay rate will be higher than that of her most experienced staff members, for the first time in her 13 years as an administrator.

"It's definitely a long time coming," she said. "I know there are times when I'm here 12 hours a day."

Vol. 21, Issue 43, Page 5

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