Monday October 04, 2010 | 05:35 PM

Maine Principals' Association executive director Dick Durost has worries about the state of the school principalship these days.

That's the subject of his latest missive to members in the latest edition of The Maine Apprise, the association's newsletter.

Durost says he's concerned that principals are being forced to take a step backwards in their duties, largely the result of tight budgets.

"I worry that building administrators may be forced to regress to the days when we managed buildings instead of serving as true instructional leaders," he writes. "I worry because I am aware of situations where a principal is responsible for multiple buildings 40 or 50 miles apart."

Durost goes on to say he notices fewer and fewer members participating in professional development -- "the cornerstone of instructional leadership" -- and attending the Maine Principals' Association fall and spring conferences.

"I worry about principals and assistant principals becoming more and more isolated from their colleagues," he writes. "I worry that they are not permitted, or do not permit themselves, to leave the building for worthwhile professional development.

"I worry that administrators do not attend in order to save districts a few dollars."

While there's no official tally of how many principals are assigned to supervise multiple buildings, there's no doubt the multi-school principal has become more and more common in recent years.

When I spoke to Durost about this trend two years ago, he said the Essential Programs and Services formula on which state aid for schools is based "doesn't give real value to the number of administrators needed in this day and age."

Indeed, the funding formula is based on a ratio of 305 students to each elementary-level administrator and 315 students to each high school administrator. In tight times, school districts have been aiming for these ratios, even when their individual schools have significantly fewer students.

While the anecdotal evidence says school districts are hiring fewer principals and assistant principals, the statistics kept by the state Department of Education don't quite back this up, though it's a bit tough to tease out what the statistics mean. A scouring of the Maine Education Data Management System for district-reported statistics shows the following interesting tidbits.

• There were fewer administrators (not including superintendents) in Maine schools during the 2009-10 school year than the 2004-05 year, but there hasn't been a consistent downward trend. Meanwhile, the average salary of non-superintendent administrator has risen 16.6 percent in that time. Such administrators are not only principals and assistant principals, but special education directors, curriculum coordinators and others.

• The year the school district consolidation took effect, the 2009-10 year, saw an increase in non-superintendent administrators -- to 1,117 from 1,091.

• The number of students during that time frame has declined each year -- 4.5 percent total, to 190,212.

• The number of teachers has also declined consistently during that time frame, albeit at a slower rate than the student decline. Maine schools employed 16,270 teachers in 2009-10, 2.7 percent fewer teachers than they employed five years earlier.

• The average teacher salary increased during that five-year time frame, at almost the same rate as the average administrator salary. The average salary was $46,071.08 in 2009-10, 16.3 percent higher than the average salary in 2004-05.

Year Students Administrators Average Administrator Salary Teachers Average Teacher Salary
2004-05 199,253 1,176 $60,171.16 16,718 $39,609.50
2005-06 195,138 1,144 $62,838.94 16,698 $40,855.83
2006-07 193,783 1,134 $65,298.49 16,607 $42,103
2007-08 190,031 1,100 $67,330.04 16,502 $43,400.57
2008-09 192,286 1,091 $69,055.90 16,292 $45,096.16
2009-10 190,212 1,117 $70,171.12 16,270 $46,071.08

Source: Maine Department of Education

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