Six-figure SFUSD pay is up

The number of San Francisco public school administrators making $100,000 or more has increased by nearly 50 percent in two years, more than one-fourth of the six-figure salaries going to school principals, according to district data.

From June 2004 to August 2006, 21 administrators joined the ranks of those making more than $100,000, bringing the total to 64. Of that, 18 are middle school or high school principals.

Most of the 21 positions that have been added to the district’s roster of top-salaried employees are not new; more than half are principal positions that paid less than $100,000 in 2004.

Three of the new positions are attorneys, according to the district’s senior chief of policy and operations, Myong Leigh

“The district has made a deliberate decision to increase the in-house staff capacity of our legal office to reduce the reliance on [and costs of] outside counsel,” wrote Leigh in an e-mail.

In 2004-05, the district’s legal office budget was $2.51 million, 80 percent of which was for outside counsel, according to district officials. With more attorney’s hired, last year’s legal budget was $2.06 million.

Two new $100,000-plus positions were created to manage the district’s facilities bond program — including a $295 million bond passed by voters in 2003 and an anticipated $450 million bond on November’s ballot.

“Having capable managers for these programs results in exponentially reduced costs,” wrote Leigh.

Bond program manager Leonard Tom, along with other finance and facilities officers hired during the tenure of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, has been given credit for helping to restore trust in the district’s construction spending, in the wake of years of mismanagement, corruption and fraud in the facilities department.

Two policy manager positions with salaries higher than $100,000 were also added to the central office roster, which includes $225,000 for interim Superintendent Gwen Chan, $160,000 for the district’s general counsel, $130,000 for the chief administrative officer and $115,000 to $120,000 for five assistant superintendents.

San Francisco’s central office salaries are in line with other similar urban school districts, according to Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools, which represents school districts in major metropolitan cities.

“These are very difficult jobs, requiring considerable technical and political skills, and are filled by people who do not grow on trees,” Casserly said. “You get what you pay for in educational administration.”

Salaries and benefits for all of San Francisco’s central office administration totals nearly $10.3 million, just over 2 percent of the district’s overall budget of $474.6 million budget.

According to information provided online by credit-rating provider Standard & Poors, the district uses about 1.5 percent of its operating dollars for general administration — not including school administration. The percentage is slightly higher than the state average, as well as percentages for districts in Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego and Sacramento, which are all 1 percent or less.

For the last six years, beginning with former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s tenure, the San Francisco Unified School District has worked to decentralize some of the responsibilities traditionally carried by the general office.

As a result, principals, teachers and parents have been asked to participate in such important decisions as budgets, hiring and educational priorities at their individual schools.

Principals carry much of the burden of shepherding these decisions, according to Marguerite Bachard, president of the San Francisco School Alliance, a nonprofit support organization for The City’s public schools. That’s in addition to the traditional duties of managing the teaching staff, addressing parent concerns and getting to know students.

This year, the San Francisco School Alliance began working with the district, as well as other nonprofit education partners, to increase professional development opportunities for principals, as well as look at ways to recruit and retain the school leaders.

Salaries for principals working in San Francisco’s public schools range from $66,366 for a first-year elementary school principal to $106,676 for a veteran high school principal.

With the passing of the federal No Child Left Behind law in 2002, pressure also fell on principals, as well as teachers, to raise student achievement on state standardized tests each year, or face escalating consequences including a complete turnover of school staff.

“We call them mini-CEOs because their job has changed so much over the last 20 years,” Bachard said. “They’re responsible for site-based budgeting, and they’re getting more actively engaged with data as a tool to turn classroom achievement around.”