School & District Management

School Administrator Groups Join Forces

By Sarah D. Sparks — February 22, 2011 4 min read
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In what may become a new model for national education organizations as memberships drop and economic woes deepen, the nation’s largest professional groups for district superintendents and elementary school principals have thrown in their lot together.

As part of a “functional consolidation,” the Arlington, Va.-based American Association of School Administrators last week announced plans to move into the offices of its Alexandria, Va., neighbor, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, in the next one to two years. Each group will keep its own name, board, leaders, and members, but will share staff, space, and purchasing power. Daniel A. Domenech, the AASA’s executive director, expects the consolidation will save his organization at least $500,000 this year.

Both groups have proposed to raise membership dues this year, by $20 for the NAESP and by $10 for the AASA and both plan to merge their staffs through attrition rather than layoffs.

“Instead of having two of every department, we’ll have one, and we’ll have the opportunity to be more cost-effective and save money at a time when the economy is putting a lot of pressure on our organizations and all administrators and principals,” Mr. Domenech said.

Barbara A. Chester, the NAESP’s president, said both groups would work hard to “maintain the identity of who we are. This model makes sense as we move forward to have a strong voice in education and a strong voice in advocacy in common areas.”

Less Influence?

Such consolidation—both sides are quick to say it’s not a merger—may provide a glimpse of the evolution of professional organizations across the country. Nationwide, education organizations have seen membership fall, particularly among younger professionals, and lower attendance at the annual conventions that are their main moneymakers.

“It seems we’re in an era where people are not much interested in joining organizations, participating in events,” said Jack Jennings, the president of the Washington-based Center on Education Policy.

“People are shifting toward the Internet and getting information in other ways. And the last couple of years, when school districts have really felt the budget crunch, it’s gotten very difficult to justify sending someone to a meeting even in-state, much less a national meeting,” he said. “The irony is Congress is going to be making decisions on education issues, … and the less involved educators and administrators are, the less influence they will have over these decisions.”

The NAESP lost $1.4 million in operating money in 2009-10 because of lower membership in the previous two years, NAESP Executive Director Gail Connelly told board members at a meeting Feb. 2-3.

And for the group’s million-dollar-a-year annual convention, she said, it’s becoming “more challenging to financially break even.”

Membership stabilized this year at about 20,000 for the NAESP, down by more than 5,000, and at 13,000 for the AASA. Data on the AASA’s prior membership numbers were unavailable. In a letter announcing the consolidation to the NAESP board, Ms. Chester said, “In these turbulent times, it often feels like a herd of buffaloes has stampeded into our lives, creating chaos, and uprooting the status quo. … Rather than allowing the challenges of our ‘stampeding buffaloes’ to overwhelm us, we have deliberately taken action to assess our resources, investigate alternative operating procedures, and determine options at our disposal to confront and overcome these challenges.”

New Strategies

Other groups are starting to have similar ideas on how to stay solvent—and relevant. The Alexandria Va.-based National School Boards Association plans to hold a joint convention with the AASA in 2013, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, in Reston, Va., is also in talks to join the NAESP/AASA partnership.

The NASSP, which represents secondary school leaders, has seen its membership fall 10 percent to 12 percent in the past five years, to under 26,000, according to Gerald N. Tirozzi, the executive director of the NASSP. He attributes that in part to belt-tightening among school boards, which are less apt to pay dues for their members now. “We’re not happy with it, but we understand it and recognize it’s not people running away, it’s just the times we live in,” he said.

Yet the group is also hoping that new collaborations with similarly minded education groups, coupled with more social-networking and more flexible formats for school leaders to gather and share information, will help the group meet the needs of increasingly tech-savvy members.

“We have to be careful we don’t get caught in what has become a very traditional model of a professional organization—you need to put out this sort of publication, this many times a year, and you need to have a big, huge convention once a year,” said Robert N. Farrace, the NASSP’s senior director for communications and development who is leading the group’s overhaul.

Officials from the AASA said the consolidation will allow the groups to merge lobbying efforts in time for the next reauthorization of the main federal education law. “We’ll be able to stand for issues in Washington that affect education policy—laws being proposed—and speak with one voice,” Mr. Domenech said. “That’s definitely a benefit that’s beyond financial.”

A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2011 edition of Education Week as AASA, NAESP Announce Plan to Share Offices, Operations

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