Principals in Baltimore schools are about to see their jobs radically altered as the city's troubled educational system prepares to undergo its biggest restructuring in years.This move by Alonso is a big move and shows a level of trust in principals that may be necessary.
The principals will have far more authority over how they spend their schools' money. If the system's search for private funding is successful, some of them will be eligible for up to $20,000 in bonuses next year. And if they cannot improve student achievement, their jobs will be at risk.
Since arriving from New York City in July, Baltimore schools chief Andres Alonso has instituted a variety of controversial measures, among them allowing schools to install metal detectors and offering to pay struggling students for improvement.
He will make an even bigger mark Tuesday as he presents his first spending blueprint to the school board, with principals at the heart of his reform plans.
The major theme of the 2008-2009 budget will be dismantling the central office administration and empowering principals to make spending decisions based on their schools' needs.
One of teh biggest troubles that many school districts and their principals face is the level of control by the central office, much of it unnecessary. So here is an opportunity for the principals to act like true leaders, giving them a certain modicum of freedom in exchange for getting results.
I have always thought that schools should have much more freedom to control what happens on the school level. But with the freedom of monetary control comes another problem that the central office should be focused on--accountability for the funds.
In recent weeks, Alonso has been trying to determine how much money can be freed up for principals to spend as they see fit. His proposed budget will contain a new per-student dollar amount that will go directly to principals.Embezzlement is not a crime of necessarily evil intent, but a crime of opportunity. In addition to the results in the classroom, a principal must also account for each and every dime paid out of the budget he controls. Fiscal responsibility as well as classroom results should be the criteria upon which part of a principals performance should be rated.
Alonso hasn't made the amount public yet but says it will be much more than $90. His proposal is subject to the approval of the school board and the City Council.
Once the budget is adopted, principals will be able to determine how many teachers they can hire, how much to spend on materials and which extracurricular activities to fund.
If a school community wants smaller class sizes, or an art teacher, or a social worker, it will be up to the principal to figure out how to accomplish that. This spring, principals will tell Alonso what they plan to do with the money they will control.
There will still need to be some guidance from the central administration but I hope that this move by Alonso will be emulated around the country, with the proper kinds of controls.