February 3, 2009
City schools favor 4 principals
Principal setup for junior-senior high school has been in place since '70's
The roughly 1,300 students at Cortland Junior-Senior High School are best served by the current arrangement of four principals, Superintendent of Schools Laurence Spring says.
Staffing will be one topic of discussion as the Board of Education begins public meetings this week concerning the 2009-10 budget, which it has begun drafting based on last year’s $41 million budget.
That could include the question of having four principals for grades seven through 12.
The building has an executive principal and one principal for each pair of grades, a setup more common in larger schools.
But Spring said this style of administration, which has been in place at least 30 years, works best.
“The people who say we don’t need that many principals are the same ones who lament the way kids are now,” Spring said, referring to societal trends that have left students with more emotional issues, distractions and behavioral issues than previous generations.
“I don’t think we need less supervision of students,” Spring said.
The three class principals under Executive Principal Gregory Santoro function as assistant principals, handling discipline. But they also observe and evaluate teachers.
Spring said that principals Abe Brafman, in 11th and 12th grades, Mac Knight, in ninth and 10th grades, and Kevin Cafararo, seventh and eighth grades, spend a large portion of each day managing students and dealing with parents, who are far more involved in school than parents were 20 or 30 years ago.
“The principals are investigating situations, such as absences, some of which result in discipline and some not,” Spring said. “Sometimes they are handling situations in ways that avoid discipline through counseling and helping students avoid conflict.”
The executive principal position was originally the district’s director of secondary education. Under this position were two high school principals and a junior high principal, in a setup similar to the current one.
The secondary education director position’s title changed to executive principal during the 1995-96 school year when Donald Parks was superintendent of schools.
Santoro is paid $99,500. The three principals average about $80,000 each.
The district also had a director of elementary education, which became the director of curriculum and instruction at the same time.
That position has been eliminated along with the special education supervisor position.
Spring said the district now has 314 students for every administrator, where many districts in Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES have 190 per student.
The numbers are his own calculations, as BOCES officials said they do not keep statistics for administrators compared to students.
Neither do the New York State School Boards Association or the state Education Department.
Santoro tends to work more with curriculum development and academic issues.
Spring said that when he was a high school assistant principal in the Churchville-Chili district, he spent his days as the three principals do.
“About three-quarters of the way through the school year, I had a good handle on which students needed monitoring,” Spring said. “I had their parents on speed dial. I could be more proactive.”
A survey of districts in the region close to Cortland district’s size found a similar ratio of principals to junior and senior high students.
In OCM BOCES, comparable districts would be Homer, East Syracuse-Minoa and Jamesville-DeWitt.
Homer has one principal for its junior high, which has 353 students. The high school has a principal and assistant principal for 711 students, or 355 students per principal.
The district also has a director of instruction and evaluation.
Jamesville-DeWitt High School has one principal and two assistant principals for 900 students, or one per 300 students. East Syracuse-Minoa High School has one principal and three assistant principals for 1,235 students, or one principal for every 300 students.
Spring said it is more accurate to compare Cortland to other small cities.
Teachers at Cortland Junior-Senior High School said they tend to work only with their own principal and do not always see it as a four-principal situation.
Lori Megivern, president of the Cortland United Teachers union, did not comment directly on the junior-senior high school principal setup. She said the Board of Education holds “the ultimate fiscal responsibility” for the district.
“They are the ones who make the final determination concerning the necessity of a position, a program or a procedure,” Megivern said. “With that said, if taxpayers wish to know what percentage of their tax money is spent on instructional staff and what percentage is spent on administration, I suggest they visit www.schooldata.org.”
That Web site contains evaluations of schools per state.
The Cortland city district also has an assistant superintendent for pupil and personnel services, Judi Riley, plus a business manager, transportation supervisor and a superintendent of buildings and grounds.
Spring said Riley is basically a human resources manager who oversees pupil services, which includes special education, guidance and nurses’ services. She coordinates hiring and employment compliance for the district’s 500 employees.
The School Administrators Association of New York says the public wrongly perceives districts’ administrations as bloated and adding little to instruction.
Nationally, SAANY said the number of school administrators has risen only slightly since 1995-96, from 2.4 percent to 2.8 percent of public school staff. Teachers dropped from 52 percent to 51.2 percent of employees. Instructional aides grew from 9.9 percent to 11.4 percent. District administrators remained at 1 percent.
Administrators’ duties have grown, and there has been no increase in administration at the expense of teaching, SAANY said.
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