Teaching Profession

Challenges Will Help Decide Principals’ Pay

By Jeff Archer — March 26, 2003 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The tougher the job, the higher the pay. That’s the new rule of thumb for principals’ salaries in Palm Beach County, Fla.

A new compensation system slated to be phased in next month promises fatter paychecks to principals at bigger schools and at schools serving larger concentrations of students living in poverty. The aim is to give the most challenging schools a better shot at attracting and keeping strong administrators.

“If you don’t have your highest-performing principals in your highest-need schools, then you’re just exacerbating the problem,” said Arthur C. Johnson, the superintendent of the 161,000-student district.

The result of 18 months of meetings among school administrators, the new pay scale comes as more states and districts are giving principals financial rewards if their schools raise student achievement.

Few, though, have introduced significant incentives for principals to take on their districts’ hardest assignments. Along with Palm Beach County, one notable exception is New York City, where Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein has proposed paying annual bonuses of $25,000 to proven principals who agree to help turn around low-performing schools.

“Everyone should be thinking this way,” said Joseph F. Murphy, an expert on school leadership at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tenn. “When the school is in a tough situation, the leadership issues are even more critical than when things are all moving along reasonably well.”

Grade- Level Equity

Sprawling from the Atlantic Ocean to the Everglades, Palm Beach County is a district of striking contrasts.

“I have some of the most affluent, high-socioeconomic communities you’ll find anywhere,” Mr. Johnson said. “And I have schools in migrant communities that are in destitute poverty.”

Until now, though, the characteristics of a school’s student population had no bearing on how much its principal got paid. Instead, the salaries of school leaders have been based almost exclusively on their years of experience.

Under the new plan, principals will earn up to 20 percent above the district’s base pay of $76,000, depending on three factors meant to reflect their schools’ complexity: the overall size of enrollment, the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and the number of extracurricular activities offered.

The same basic formula also will determine salaries of assistant principals.

By tailoring administrator pay to the conditions at each school, the new scale also seeks to address a long- standing discrepancy between salaries at the elementary and secondary levels.

Like most districts, Palm Beach County has traditionally paid more to high school principals, on the assumption that their jobs are more demanding. And yet, some of its elementary schools now enroll more than 1,400 students, while a few high schools that focus on specific themes have fewer than 600.

Although school level plays a part in the new pay plan, the scale does allow for some principals at large elementary schools to earn more than their counterparts in small high schools.

“There is probably more equity in this than we had before,” said Walter H. Pierce, a retired Palm Beach County principal who helped design the new salary schedule. “This profiles your school, so what could be more fair than that?”

Along with the incentives based on school population, principals will be able to increase their salaries by as much as another 15 percent if they meet certain performance targets, such as raising their schools’ test scores. Florida state lawmakers recently passed legislation requiring districts to tie at least 5 percent of an administrator’s pay to student performance.

In Palm Beach County, the maximum total principal’s salary under the new plan will be about $124,700 a year. District officials peg the price tag of the incentives at $1.9 million, by the time they’re fully phased in after three years.

While some principals will see hefty pay hikes as a result of the change, Mr. Pierce pointed out that others who are already near the top of the scale could see their salaries frozen temporarily if they work at small schools in affluent areas.

He added that he’s already getting calls from principals asking how much they’d make if they moved to a more challenging school. “They’re really looking at their jobs, and at the system differently than they did before,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

A Tough Sell

The new pay scale is only the latest effort by Palm Beach County officials to strengthen staff quality at the district’s lowest-performing schools. Last summer, the district offered $10,000 bonuses to a select group of teachers who had demonstrated their ability to raise student test scores, in exchange for working in a school that had been rated a D or an F by Florida’s accountability system.

About 20 teachers who were eligible for the awards and already in such schools have stayed, but only 10 agreed to move from a higher-performing school to a lower-performing one, showing just how hard it is to encourage the best educators to take on the greatest challenges.

District leaders hope that if more talented principals move to their lowest-rated schools, more teachers will follow.

Nathan Collins, the principal of Palm Beach Lakes Community High School, agrees that some schools are just more complicated to work in than others.

About 60 percent of his students live in poverty, he says, and many arrive for 9th grade with the reading skills of a 3rd or 4th grader. Because Florida tests students in grade 10, they have less than two years to catch up.

“We have some very good principals in Palm Beach,” Mr. Collins said. “And I think more of them would work in the more challenging schools with a little incentive.”


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Data Webinar
Education Insights with Actionable Data to Create More Personalized Engagement
The world has changed during this time of pandemic learning, and there is a new challenge faced in education regarding how we effectively utilize the data now available to educators and leaders. In this session
Content provided by Microsoft
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Opinion Wellness Can't Be Just Another Task for Teachers to Do
If we want teachers to remain in the profession, state departments of education, school districts, and parent groups must step up.
Beth Pandolpho
4 min read
Vibrant hand drawn illustration depicting mindfulness concept
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Teaching Profession Thousands of Teachers Who Were Denied Loan Forgiveness Will Get a Second Chance
A settlement between the American Federation of Teachers and the U.S. Department of Education establishes a review process for borrowers.
4 min read
Teaching Profession Teachers May See Student Loans Forgiven Under New Ed. Dept. Changes
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, long criticized for its complicated and poorly communicated processes, is getting an overhaul.
4 min read
Image of Money, Benjamin Franklin Close Up
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Profession Quiz
Quiz Yourself: How Much Do You Know About Teacher Retirement?
How familiar are you with teacher retirement?
Content provided by Equitable