DC Public Schools is planning to base principals' and assistant principals' salaries on their performance evaluations, a salary structure currently reserved for teachers and other school-based employees, schools officials said Thursday.
As part of a $62.3 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the school system will bump the administrators' salaries by $2,000 to $5,000 when they earn high ratings on the Impact evaluation tool, which is informed by students' test scores, teacher retention rates, engagement with families and leadership skills.
Principals and their assistants in the system's 40 lowest-performing schools will be moved to salary schedules that are $20,000 higher for principals and $10,000 higher for assistant principals.
Mayor Vincent Gray, reacting to the news that DCPS had won the grant, said, "It's another great day for the District."
The announcement comes as the role evaluations play in D.C. teachers' salaries and job security are being both scrutinized and hailed across the country. Under Impact, teachers are rated "ineffective," "minimally effective," "developing," "effective," or "highly effective." Teachers who receive top ratings are eligible for lavish bonuses and salary increases, while those with low ratings can be automatically fired.
This would be the first time D.C. principals' salaries were determined by the evaluation tool. Melissa Salmanowitz, a spokeswoman for DCPS, said decisions to terminate or renew a principal's contract will remain independent of Impact. Principals rated below "effective" won't see their salaries dinged. The average salary for a DCPS principal was $123,000 last year.
The Council of School Officers, which represents principals, assistant principals and other school-based administrators, clashed with DCPS last year when principals were given raises but other employees the union represents, such as school psychologists and business managers, were left in the cold. Union President Aona Jefferson questioned whether principals could accept merit pay when her union has failed to broker a contract with DCPS after three years of negotiations.
"We're ecstatic the District has received money that will increase salaries but it still has to be implemented in a proper and legal manner," Jefferson said.
Salmanowitz declined to confirm that a contract would be necessary to move forward, but said in an email, "We look forward to working with the CSO to finalize these details."
Meanwhile, Nathan Saunders, president of the Washington Teachers' Union, offered a warning to the principals on behalf of teachers. While there are currently no risks to principals under the new salary structure, Saunders cited the hundreds of teachers who have been fired for poor evaluation ratings, even as the evaluation tool is being changed.
"I would caution principals that it's a high-risk business and it's reflective of how high-risk education is going," Saunders said. "It's not something I recommend wholeheartedly."