Shortage of principals is predicted Half of current crop is eligible to retire

few replacements seen

A high burnout job

Rising pensions may encourage even more to leave

January 21, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

County schools are heading for a shortage of experienced principals, as more than half of the principals are eligible to retire and fewer teachers are training for the jobs.

Sixty of the 116 principals could retire within a year or two, say school officials. The Association of Educational Leaders (AEL), the administrators' union says the figure is in the 80s.

At least 11, two of whom have won public accolades for their work, have told their union they will retire at the end of this school year -- nearly three times the number who left last year.

The situation could get worse after that as the retirement pot is sweetened. Next year, the full impact of three years of pay raises may tempt more principals to leave because retirement pay is based on the salary of the top three years.

"That certainly is a concern," said Suzanne Q. Hoffman, the district's human resources supervisor of professional personnel.

Principals received their first across-the-board pay raise in three years in the 1994-1995 school year. Some near the top of the scale received salary jumps of $6,000 that year.

Starting salaries for principals range from $45,000 to $75,000.

School system officials say the 82 assistant principals more than cover the potential retirements, but a number of those assistants also are nearing the 30-year requirement for full retirement benefits.

Losing too many assistant principals could present another problem. Only 39 educators are in training for administrative posts.

"The interest is dwindling a little bit," Ms. Hoffman acknowledged.

Principals and teachers say running a school is losing its appeal, and the changing nature of the job is leading to burnout and frustration. After two principals suffered strokes last year and retired, colleagues wondered how much stress contributed to those health problems.

"Stress? It comes in about 10 or 11 directions," said AEL Administrator Donald M. Smith, who retired after 22 years as a principal.

"There has been an erosion of authority at school for a number of years," Mr. Smith said.

The pressure from students, parents, teachers and the administration is forcing school chiefs to take on responsibility beyond academic instruction.

"They are a building manager and a people manager, as well as an educator. Those roles have expanded in the last few years and the instructional component has not," Ms. Hoffman said.

Some principals, smarting from ugly contract negotiations in 1994, view the school board as hostile; others see top administrators as uncaring, meddlesome and indifferent to the skyrocketing paperwork that comes with the job.

"That's not true at all," said Joseph H. Foster, president of the school board. He blamed the problem on a "lack of stamina on the part of the principals."

"They are not being constrained by too many guidelines from the board or the central office," he said.

The central office and school board are open to ways to reduce paperwork, he said. Though he is concerned about losing experienced principals, Mr. Foster said it is valuable to bring new blood into the administrative ranks.

"It's a two-edged sword," he said. "You are gaining enthusiasm, new ideas."

Two decades ago, a principal's focus was setting the instructional program, establishing the tone of a school and encouraging teachers, Mr. Smith said.

"But in 1996, the best principal gets to spend maybe 20 percent of his time in instruction; 80 percent is handling 'administrivia,' " Mr. Smith said.

The head of the union that represents county teachers sympathizes with the plight of principals.

"In reality, what you are getting is a job with a lot more duties and a lot less control over your life, but you're still being told what to do," said John R. Kurpjuweit, president of the Teachers ** Association of Anne Arundel County.

The school system is trying to find ways to identify leaders and encourage them to become principals. A study group plans to have recommendations in two months.

A job survey was given to the system's 4,000 teachers in May. One-fourth of the 2,700 respondents expressed some interest in becoming an administrator, but they made no commitment.

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