How to Thank Philadelphia Principals for Their Pay Cut? Let Them Do Their Jobs.

And five reasons we should all be grateful.

Philadelphia School District Building

This week, and by an overwhelming 83% margin, the union representing Philadelphia’s high school principals agreed to enormous pay cuts, a 10-month work year, and to contribute more toward their health insurance. We are grateful. We thank you.

“There’s not a cavalry coming,” union president Robert McGrogan said. “With a new fiscal year on our doorstep, we needed to do something to help right the district. We’ve ratified a contract, but we’re hardly celebrating.”


The pay cut amounts to 16% of their salaries so it's easy to understand how they feel. A 16% pay cut (for some principals it's as much as $20,000 per year) is unthinkable for most of us.  It hurts a lot. It’s a step backward. It’s frustrating and upsetting.

True, the typical principal makes between $124,000 and $149,000 a year and that’s more than many. But at best it’s middle class. I know some teachers in suburban school districts who aren’t earning much less. And for most in the business world, this is not as much as you think — a typical CEO running an organization the size of a Philly school usually makes significantly more than that. Don’t believe me?  The CEOs of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau and VisitPhiladelphia make $356,000 and $425,000 per year, respectively.  Most of our principals didn’t create today’s school district’s problems — they were started long ago. But now they’re anteing up. Thank you.

And thank you for pretending that your jobs are only for 10 months. They’re not and we know that. Maybe teachers can take the summers off. But principals can’t. Paid or unpaid, I know for a fact that most principals will feel compelled to work through the summer in order to keep their organizations running. They can’t just leave in June and show up in September. This is not a 10-month-a-year job. I hope some of these principals really do take some time off to recharge — they deserve it. Or use that time to work other jobs, like summer camps or consulting or speaking or writing to earn a few extra bucks. They deserve that too.

And thank you for recognizing reality and agreeing to pay more for your health insurance. Those of us in the private sector are in disbelief when we learn about the kinds of benefits provided to today’s government employees — generous pension plans, early retirement ages, top-quality, fully paid health benefits, favorable overtime, substantial vacations, etc. etc. My business can’t afford to offer these perks, and neither can most of my clients. It’s out of whack with the rest of the universe. By agreeing to take on more of this burden from the taxpayer our principals are bravely admitting this.

Most importantly, thank you for your leadership. As principal, you are the CEO of your school. When times are good you can benefit. But when times are bad you unfortunately must make hard choices, even if it personally affects you. This is what CEOs do. They sacrifice when needed. They lead by example. And our school principals are making a statement to everyone else in the school district. They are saying “we are doing the right thing, will you?”

Because in the end, it’s about the kids in this district, not about them. And you are showing that you do care. Like past leaders of our district, you are not demanding more and more from the taxpayer, or jumping ship and taking big severance payouts. You understand that the money you receive is money that could be used to buy books or fund after-school programs. Schools are about the kids, not about personal profits. This is the life educators choose, for better or worse. They choose to put the kids’ needs in front of their own. Our principals are re-affirming that choice. I am grateful there are people willing to do this. They make up for people like me. Thank you.

Unfortunately, thank yous only go so far. The principals’ pay cuts will sting them for years to come, well after they’ve been forgotten by the rest of us. So before these acts of leadership are forgotten, let’s take the opportunity to really thank them. Let’s encourage our political and educational leaders to do just one thing. And what’s that?

Give these principals the ability to really do their jobs.

  • Allow them to hire and fire without recourse.
  • Let them build their own teams of great teachers and create their own kind of teaching environments without bureaucracy, lawsuits, excessive rules and micromanagement from the district or its unions.
  • And let them fire those teachers that don’t want to comply.

If we’re asking them to take such a significant cut in pay and benefits, the least we can do is offer them a better professional life. The district has many, many great teachers and staff. And unfortunately more than a few lousy ones. Principals shouldn’t have to deal with lousy, lazy, unresponsive, entitlement-heavy staff. They don’t deserve that. They deserve more.

Will the rest of the district, still facing close to a $400 million deficit, follow?  We’ll see. But for now, let’s just say thanks to these principals.

Follow @GeneMarks on Twitter.

For more on Philly schools, read Patrick Kerkstra's Philadelphia’s School Crisis: A City On The Brink.

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  • Jennyfromtheblock

    Great article. Hooray administrators. You are truly leading!

  • Oliver

    Yes, bravo to this union for making things a little easier and shouldering some burden that is not solely theirs to shoulder. I hope the members’ actions are an example of belt-tightening that other unions are compelled to follow, as well as all Americans. If you’re carrying credit card debt, pay it off before buying one more non-essential thing. Credit card companies don’t need your money as much as you do.

    • dontdrinkthekoolaid

      You are naive if you think their reduced pay will go to materials for students. The district will use this money to fund more charters while dismantling public schools. Many principals are incompetent and do not deserve sole dictatorship. They did not agree to get pay cuts so let’s not make them out to be hero’s. There time was reduced from 12 months to 10 months. Their average salary is still the same. AND they will be able to work a few months in summer to make more pay. Ridiculous article!

  • Oliver

    I didn’t say the money would go toward materials for students. But it was a cheaper alternative than litigation or a prolonged battle that would keep students out of school and inconvenience their working parents. Whether you think they earn too much or not, this was easier and cheaper than a fight.

  • teachersneedleaders

    I would like to add that the district has many, many great principals and assistant principals but unfortunately, more than a few lousy ones. Teachers, students and parents shouldn’t have to deal with lousy, lazy, unresponsive, entitlement-heavy administrators. They don’t deserve that. They deserve more.

  • amyroat

    A few points: I feel very sad for principals who are so beat down that they think they deserve this. Mr. Marks is forwarding the idea that the teachers who teach the kids with the most needs are awful teachers. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t want to read the data that correlates poverty with under-acheivement and under-funded schools. Nope, he is all for a dictatorship. Seniority (which is not a job for life, but a right to due process) was written into the School Code in order to protect teacher from abuse. Unionized teachers watch the money. Vulture capitolists want the money, so they need to get rid of us or strip of us of our due process rights so we are too scared to speak up. It is about the money and it is easiest to steal money from the poor, the black, the brown and the immigrant. More racist and sociopathic journalism is not what this situation needs.

  • Frustrated

    Believe me, NO ONE wants the principals to do their jobs more than teachers. Believe me. First, the principals had no choice but to vote for this agreement. It was vote for it or accept an imposed contract from the district. We, teachers refuse to accept that. We didn’t create this problem and we’re sure as hell not going to fix it financially. Second, The problem is, most of them don’t, and it’s not the teacher’s fault. The principal of my school makes more than my husband who works 12 hour days for a very prosperous private sector company. My building principal leaves at 3:30 most days. Teachers take the summers off? Are you kidding me? Hire and fire at will? Clearly you don’t work in the schools and witness the bullying, threats, and intimidation on teachers and lack of student discipline that takes place on the part of the principal. At $120,000ish? Please. You have no idea what goes on in these school buildings. Without the teachers, these schools would implode (faster than they already are.)

    • Another Frustrated Teacher

      It also doesn’t mention that when those principals go in during the summer, since they are now 10 month employees, they will get extra pay, like overtime. So essentially, they work less hours for a little less pay (which evens out) and then they get “overtime” for coming in during the summer months. Hmmmmm yeah, they took one for the team.

      • Principal_A

        Sadly, you are ill-informed. We get paid for 10 days only for the purpose of summer reorganization. Generally, that covers us for the end of August. IF we wait until the end of August to get ready for September, then school opening will be a mess. In order to get ready, we would have to go in during July and/or earlier in August. That would be for free. That’s why, in reality, we should be 11-month employees.

  • Anne Tenaglia

    First of all, site selection has been in existence for many years. Our school’s principal and a team hired new teachers and it worked quite well. You have to have a working relationship between the faculty and the principal to do it though. In my 37 years of teaching, out of the 6 principals I worked with, 2 were excellent. 1 was mediocre, and the others were awful. Hiring and firing at will is dangerous with mediocre or poor principals. Clearly you have never worked for one.

    The other thing I take umbrage with is the principals being able to fire lousy teachers. The principals have ALWAYS been able to fire lousy teachers. They just have to follow the procedures set forth that protect the teachers from the lousy principals.

    Lastly, here’s another POV you should read.
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/08/26/1233998/-Philadelphia-Republican-Governor-you-created-this-mess-in-city-s-schools?fb_action_ids=10202112108308169&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582

  • Philly teacher

    Why not start from the top and work down? Look at the unesessary jobs and inflated salaries in the building on 440 north broad street.
    Teachers have the most interactions with the students and immediately see the impact of those interactions. If it’s about the kids then reward the kids and the teachers that help them.
    These building are old and falling apart. The supplies are in rough shape or nonexistent. The schools mirror the situations seen outside in the neighborhoods.
    These are nonprofit schools with “CEOs” that make $140,000? Why not put a maximum ceiling on salary relatively speaking to the economy on principals 15 years ago? Why not have a small staff at 440 writhing grants or letters to big businesses or universities for donations or private funding? Why not sell the names of the school buildings or sides of the building to private companies for advertising like the professional stadiums do? Why not put a maximum ceiling on teachers salaries relatively speaking based on the economy? And since this is a non profit “company” and not a money maker, why not take care of your employees benefits since their salaries are lower relatively speaking when compared to for-profit companies?
    People that write these opinion pieces need to get the facts about everything and maybe even actually witness what goes on on any given day to day basis before writing “their opinion” or the opinion of a person that has no experience of a philly public school from the point of view as an educator or the opinion of someone that just doesn’t want to pay more taxes to help the children.

  • Seriously?

    Everyone knows that one of the major problems plaguing the School District of Philadelphia is that every year it loses a sizeable amount of its educated, income earning, real estate tax paying residents because they feel that they have no choice but to move to areas with better schools. Do you really think that the solution to this problem is making principals take huge pay cuts, and admit that their job is not worthy of a 12 month position? More importantly, do you think that the greater problem here is that principals don’t have enough authority to make decisions such as firing bad teachers? You seem to suggest that it is only right for teachers who are already paid well below the average suburban teacher to now line up to take the contract being put forward by the district complete with huge pay cuts and all the other conditions reportedly being offered such as no guarantee of desks, file cabinets, or water fountains. In other words, it would go a long way in solving Philadelphia’s problems if the teachers would admit that they are not worthy of either the salaries or the dignity afforded to their suburban counterparts.

    As someone who began my career in Philadelphia, and spent the last ten years teaching in a suburban district, I can tell you the problem in Philadelphia is not bad teachers or competent principals who are restricted by union regulations. It is the leadership. In the four years that I was in Philadelphia, our school saw five different head principals and countless vice principals. Some were competent, but many were not. Did I see a few bad or incompetent teachers? Sure, but much of that was due to the fact that long terms subs with no educational background were used to staff shortage areas when they could not lure a chemistry teacher or a math teacher to a difficult environment with the promise of no stability, no support from the administration, and a much lower pay scale. More importantly, I saw many excellent teachers working to improve a challenging environment by teaching competently every day. I saw teachers start athletic programs, after school clubs, and community gardens on their own time for no compensation, until many of them got tired of the administrative turmoil and moved on to the suburbs. As another person here commented, principals can certainly fire teachers by following a process. In many cases though, I watched principals circumvent that process by simply making teachers’ who they didn’t like for whatever reasons lives miserable until the teachers transferred or quit.

    The politicians continue to bring in highly paid and politically connected CEOs and their staffs from the last big city that ran them out to save Philadelphia schools. Before Dr. Hite was saving the district by closing and consolidating “underused” schools, Paul Vallas was being hailed as a hero for splitting large schools into smaller ones. Let’s not forget Arlene Ackerman collecting unemployment after her million dollar payout by the district. Meanwhile, the teachers cannot even get paper – and I’m not exaggerating. I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that your commentary on the big problem facing Philadelphia’s schools is misguided. If you want to improve the schools, start by cutting some of the huge layer of administrative bureaucracy and using the savings to offer teachers a fair contract that makes them partners in the process of turning around Philadelphia’s schools.

  • Principal_A

    First and foremost, I must acknowledge that my first reaction when I saw the headline was thank you! We truly do need the wherewithal to do our jobs. That being said, I do not subscribe to the portions of this article that paint teachers as the root cause of why our jobs are so difficult. Those sentiments come from the uninformed. Sure, there are certain personnel in schools where it would be great if we could exit them out with no muss and no fuss. But that is not the big issue. The big issues are the lack of human and material resources, the lack of options in dealing with problematic students, the challenges in engaging and holding accountable the disengaged parents, and class sizes that are at 30-33 students.