Timing is right for performance pay for principals

/ 22 March 2012 / jennifer

Pioneer Press Editorial, March 22, 2012 –

Principals in Minnesota’s second-largest school district will be eligible for up to $3,000 in performance pay next year under a new contract approved by the St. Paul school board Tuesday, March 20.

The new incentive reflects growing pressure principals face to deliver measurable student gains, the Pioneer Press’ Mila Koumpilova reported.

Timing is right. The performance bonus complements stepped-up evaluation of principals, which began this year in the district. Annual evaluations for principals will be required under state law in 2013.

But there’s a caveat: It will be important to avoid the perception that the new dollars are a given. The bonus pay should truly be “at risk” and should be awarded to hold principals accountable for improving student performance.

A task force of principals and administrators will flesh out what goals school leaders must meet to earn the extra pay, Koumpilova reported, and we urge them to be rigorous in their work and clear in the standards they set.

The “leadership/performance compensation” is part of a new two-year contract between the district and the union, the St. Paul Principals’ Association, representing 108 principals and assistant principals. The contract also introduces a two-year probationary period for principals assigned to a new school in the district.

Assistant principals will be eligible for performance bonuses of up to $2,500 under the new contract, which is estimated to cost an additional $763,000 over two years. Factoring in the cost of benefits, the average compensation for a principal in St. Paul ranges from $144,450 for elementary principals to about $155,000 for high school principals, the district told Koumpilova.

With the contract approval this week, St. Paul joins other Minnesota districts that recently have embraced performance bonuses for principals. This year, principals in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district can qualify for about $700 in performance pay. Principals in the Anoka-Hennepin district next year will be eligible for up to $2,000 more than their base pay.

The new contract is an exciting step for the district, School Board Chair Jean O’Connell told us. “The principals brought it to the table. They want to be held accountable.”

After teacher quality, she said, building leadership is the second most important element in improving student performance.

In education’s era of accountability, we suspect that principals are accustomed to even more scrutiny, as they answer to administrators, teachers, parents and taxpayers. If the performance dollars make stronger the connection between their efforts and their students’ success, the dollars will be well spent.