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December 04, 2002 2 min read

Birds of a Feather

Public school administrators in Howard County, Md., may no longer have the country’s largest teachers’ union behind them, but they at least belong to a group that understands their needs.

For decades, principals and assistant principals in the 46,600-student district were represented by the Howard County Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association. Of late, however, the school leaders felt lost in the teacher- dominated union, said Stephen Zagami, the principal of Jeffers Hill Elementary School.

“For the last eight years or so, there was just the feeling of not really being fully understood by that group,” he said. “We always just felt kind of cast aside.”

So earlier this year, the administrators broke ranks with the teachers’ group and formed the Howard County Administrators Association. With Mr. Zagami as its president, the organization represents about 180 members in bargaining.

Last month, the bargaining unit joined the American Federation of School Administrators, a labor organization with about 90 affiliates across the country that includes some 20,000 members.

Joseph Staub, the president of the Howard County Education Association, said the administrators were free to strike out on their own. Still, he noted, they have lost significant strength in numbers by leaving the 4,000-member local and its 2.5 million-member parent.

“I would say that in the four years that I’ve been president, we’ve made very, very clear efforts to represent all of our groups,” said Mr. Staub, whose union also includes librarians, counselors, and school secretaries.

In one respect, though, the Howard County administrators have joined a much larger and more diverse club than even the teachers’ union. The American Federation of School Administrators is an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, whose member unions represent some 13 million workers. The NEA is not part of the giant house of labor.

Officials with the Washington-based AFSA say the group has seen a growth spurt. Last year, administrators in Dallas formed ties with the federation, as did their brethren in New Orleans the year before.

Diane Landry King, a spokeswoman for the group, attributed the trend to the new pressures principals are under, given budget tightening and the accountability measures in the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001. “We know the responsibilities they have and the challenges they face,” she said.

—By Jeff Archer

A version of this article appeared in the December 04, 2002 edition of Education Week