Racial Bias, And The Administrator/Teacher Compensation Gap

Dear Colleagues:

On Wednesday, September 23, 2020, I made the statement below to the Chicago Board of Education and CPS management:

There are nearly ten thousand teachers in CPS with a master's degree and ten or more years of experience. This is the pool of people from which CPS draws its assistant principals, who eventually become its principals.

Last month I highlighted the fact that CPS pays these teachers an average of more than $70 per hour while it pays the average assistant principal less than $55 an hour, according to data released by CPS last December in response to a FOIA request. We have no problem with teachers making $70/hour. Our students certainly need this district to pay a salary that attracts and retains the best teachers. Our issue is that this district does not take the same approach with its principals and particularly, its assistant principals, paying them, on average, $15 an hour less than the people they supervise.

It can be difficult to see the impact of this hourly wage inequity when comparing annual salaries since assistant principals work during Christmas Break, Spring Break, and the entire summer when teachers are off. However, there are schools in our district where both the teachers and administrators work throughout the summer, and the impact of the hourly wage difference on annual salary can be seen in these schools.

For example, teachers and administrators at Jefferson alternative school work during the entire summer. CPS pays 40 teachers at Jefferson more than the $103,000 starting salary of an assistant principal. CPS pays a $109,000 salary to one of Jefferson's assistant principals. According to the latest CPS position roster, that $109,000 salary is less than the annual salary CPS pays to 31 of the teachers that assistant principal supervises. Can you imagine being that assistant principal? Can you imagine being any assistant principal in a system that so disrespects the worth of our work?

That's on top of other insults like principals having to do the work of a clerk who's out on an ADA accommodation. In contrast, the principal was denied the same ADA accommodation to stay at home her kids, who are legally not allowed to be home alone. 

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this pay inequity is that--unlike your teaching force, which is predominantly white--your administrators are mostly African American and Hispanic. According to information we obtained from CPS through a separate 2019 FOIA requestmore than 65% of CPS administrators are nonwhite, and nearly 65% of those nonwhite administrators are African American. This Board needs to reckon with the fact that this district created, presides over, and continues to justify an institutionally racist system of compensation, because you, CPS, are paying your predominantly nonwhite administrators less than the mostly white teaching force they supervise. We will never know if this was intentional or the result of systemic bias, but we do know that it's real, and it needs to be addressed.

Unfortunately, it's just the latest in a long line of racist policies and systems to come out of CPS. Whether it be how you fund our schools, how you rank and rate our schools, how you build additions to schools, how you close our schools, or how you evaluate and compensate the people who staff our schools, there is institutional racism at CPS from top to bottom. It is time for the national reckoning on race in the United States to burst through the doors at 42 W. Madison and fundamentally challenge and change the culture and the leadership of this district in a way that ensures that every child gets the polices and resources they need to realize their potential. 

The research says that the two most essential resources this Board can give those children are the best possible teachers and the best possible principals. But the road to the principalship starts with the position of assistant principal--a position that fewer and fewer of our best teachers are willing to take on because of the pay cut they'd have to take. 

This is not a question of "Will the district lose great principals because of this pay inequity?" It has already lost them. It lost them in the form of all of the great teachers who've turned down offers to become assistant principals in CPS because of the backward, inequitable, and insulting compensation system that you continue to uphold. You have lost some of the best and brightest because of this inequitable system, and you will lose even more if you do not fix it.

A core group of CPAA members has formed a compensation working group charged with describing this inequitable system and raising public consciousness of those inequities. They will also develop a proposal for a compensation system that will attract and retain the best educators to our ranks and get administrator buy-in and public support for the proposal they develop.

In closing, at the August board meeting, one CPS Board member publicly committed to working with the CPS administration to address this inequity. The more than 1,000 principals and assistant principals in CPS all hope that more of you make that same commitment today.  Lastly, we would like to remind you that our Governing Board at CPAA is the only body of administrators elected by their peers and is, therefore, the only body of administrators that can represent school leaders with any sense of democratic legitimacy. Any or all of you are welcome to confer with us at any time as we develop our proposal.

I delivered the above statement to the Board and will continue to reach out to Board members and CPS management to get these issues addressed. If you're interested in being part of our compensation working group, please contact me.

Systemic racism--whether intentional or not--hurts all of us, and this can be seen more clearly in some situations than in others. For example, in the 1960s and 1970s realtors used racist fear tactics to get white residents to sell their homes for far less than they were worth and then sold them to black residents for far more than they were worth. Everyone except the racist realtors was cheated. In our situation, administrators of all races are paid less than the worth of their work because, in part, they practice a profession that--at least in Chicago--is majority Black and Hispanic.

Just as systemic racism can hurt all of us, eliminating systemic racism can help all of us. It is my hope that approaching administrator compensation through the lens of systemic racism will add a new sense of urgency and pressure for the district to fix the unjust system and standards it uses to pay the people who lead its schools.

In solidarity,
Troy LaRaviere
Chicago Principals & Administrators Association