Sunday, January 28, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, January 28, 2001

De-unionize principals and pay them more

One important thought that may have been lost when Gov. Ben Cayetano declared that the state isn’t obligated to finance the arbitrated wage increase won by the white-collar public worker union is this:

Hawaii’s public schools are on the brink of an extreme shortage of principals.

The problem is different from the shortage of public school teachers. A demographic quirk has a large cohort of principals on the verge of retirement.

In order to keep proven principals and recruit many more, we must pay them more - in some cases, a lot more. But this higher pay and higher recognition should be accompanied by a de-unionization of these obviously management positions.

This isn’t as simple as it sounds.

Probably the worst thing that could happen to Hawaii schools right now is a retreat to a system in which school principals are appointed through a political crony system.

It was just this - or at least the fear of political cronyism - that led to the unionization of public school principals more than 25 years ago.

The union has provided a buffer against political pressure and a merit system in which the best jobs generally go to the most senior principals.

What has been lost, unfortunately, is direct accountability.

The plain fact is that no individual person is more responsible for the success or failure of a school than its principal. The principal is the front-line manager who sets the tone for the entire campus. A strong, motivated principal, rooted in the community and aware of the particular needs of his or her student body, is critical for quality education.

It’s time to take principals out of the union, make them true managers - and pay them accordingly.

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