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.