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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Lakeside Middle School Principal Allan Jones says about administrative salaries, “You earn every penny.”

Educators’ pay gap owes to duties, time

Widest disparity seen at charters

Without hesitation, Lakeside Middle School Principal Alan Jones recalls what surprised him most about the move from teacher to school administrator.

“Stress,” he said, laughing. “You have to be a good multi-tasker.”

Jones, 34, spent four years teaching before earning his administrator license. He was an assistant principal in Muncie before returning to Fort Wayne to spend half a year as an assistant principal at North Side High School. He’s now in his second year at Lakeside.

He said the salary bump he received as a building administrator wasn’t the reason behind his decision. For him, it was about touching more lives: students, teachers, parents and other community members.

That’s not to say the salary isn’t important.

“It does matter,” he said. “You earn every penny.”

Compensation is crucial in attracting high-quality employees in any industry. In education, pay for teachers and principals is an important topic, especially as the demands placed on both are increasing.

Nationally, the average teacher earned $54,220 and the average principal earned $95,736, according to 2011 census figures, the most recent available.

Salaries for teachers and principals in Allen County are slightly less than the national average but vary greatly by school district and whether the district is a traditional public or a charter school, according to data from the state Department of Education.

But the pay gaps between teachers and principals are rather meaningless to gauge because they vary widely for various reasons and are necessary, said teacher pay expert Sabrina Laine.

The complaint that public schools are burdened by administrative bloat is more often directed at central office administration, not building administrators such as principals, said Laine, vice president of the education program at American Institutes for Research and an expert in teacher and leader effectiveness.

In 2011, the average administrator in Indiana earned about $37,000 more than the average teacher, according to the latest available Department of Education data. Locally, some districts and schools came in above and below the state average. East Allen County Schools’ gap was the narrowest, with its average administrator earning $19,160 more than its average teacher. The largest gap was at Timothy L. Johnson Academy, a city charter school, where the gap was nearly double the state average.

Principals and assistant principals are compensated at a higher rate, as they should be, for the added duties and responsibilities of leadership positions, Laine said.

Those responsibilities include coordinating teacher training, ensuring the safety of everyone in the building, observing and evaluating teachers as well as responding to parent requests and concerns, Jones said. His car is the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave the parking lot at the end of the day.

The average middle school principal in the U.S. earned about $95,426 a year, according to census data. The average middle school principal in Fort Wayne Community Schools earned $92,231, according to 2012 salary data obtained by The Journal Gazette through a public records request.

“I don’t feel bad about what I make … based on my stress level at the end of the day,” Jones said of the salary difference between teachers and building administrators. “It’s not like teaching.”

An administrator’s contract is also different from a teacher’s, said Todd Bess, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Principals. Teacher contracts typically run 180 to 185 days while a building administrator’s contract is more than 200. He said legislative changes in recent years have placed more demands on both principals and teachers.

A narrow pay gap between principals and teachers can affect a school’s or district’s ability to recruit high-quality school leaders, especially at the middle and elementary school levels, Laine said.

“Why take on the additional headache and long hours … for only a 20(percent) or 30 percent pay difference?” she asked.

Jones said long-time teachers who pick up extra duties such as coaching have the opportunity to make almost as much as he does.

Al Jacquay, president of the Fort Wayne Education Association, said he doubts the pay gap between teachers and building administrators is hurting the school district’s ability to recruit building leaders, based on the figures he has seen.

For teachers who take principal or assistant principal jobs early in their careers the salary change isn’t a barrier to making the switch, Bess said.

“The challenge comes when teachers with more experience waiting for the right time move into an administrative position,” he said.

The latter scenario is the one Jacquay said happens more often in FWCS. Typically, long-time teachers make the switch to building administration, so they’re already higher on the pay scale based on experience, he said. People who teach for just a couple years before taking a building leadership role are the minority, he said.

The largest gaps between teachers and principals locally are seen in the city’s charter schools. The average administrator at Timothy L. Johnson Academy makes about $97,500 a year, while the average teacher at the school makes about $33,000. Compare those figures to the average pay for administrator at Northwest Allen County Schools, who earns $110,389, and teacher, $51,311, according to DOE figures from 2011.

This could likely be attributed not to high administrator salaries but to low teacher salaries. Charter school leader salaries are in line with or slightly lower-than-average principal salaries at traditional public schools, but the average charter teacher makes about $20,000 less than the average traditional public school teacher in Allen County, according to Department of Education data.

The primary reason for this is that public school teachers are part of a union, Laine said. Both charter school and traditional public school teachers start out about the same salary, but charter school teachers don’t benefit from automatic triggers that can be found in traditional public school teacher contracts.

But legislative changes have removed automatic pay increases for traditional public school teachers based on experience, in favor of pay increases based on evaluations and student test scores.

Laine said there’s no “industry standard” for the differences between teacher and administrator pay because it usually depends on union involvement.

Districts also maintain their own salary schedules for administrators, but a school’s principal should be making more than its highest-paid teacher, she said.

“The role of a principal is pretty critical,” Laine said.

And it’s a nearly 24-hour-a-day job, Jones said.

“It is what it is,” he said. “That’s the job and I love it.

“It goes back to your passion, and my passion is kids. That hasn’t changed. It’s the impact you have on students.”

Jones was recently tagged in a Facebook post by a former student, thanking him for his influence and work as an educator. Jones read a portion of the post out loud: “If all educators were like you, we’d all love school,” the student wrote.

“It was on a day when, man, I really needed that,” he said, recalling when he first read the post.

And it’s times like those that remind him why he’s a principal and an educator.

“That’s worth more than any salary,” he said.