Test scores were out, and Toledo Public School officials looked for a school to highlight, and a staff to laud. They picked Chad Kolebuck's building.
As the diminutive white principal of an all-boys, nearly all-black elementary school in central Toledo, Mr. Kolebuck sometimes seemed misplaced at Martin Luther King, Jr., Academy for Boys. But when the magnet school jumped two ranks, from academic emergency to continuous improvement, on last year's state report card, the spotlight shone on him.
A year later, Mr. Kolebuck is gone from TPS, on his way to Sylvania City Schools.
Another year, and another crop of talent is leaving Toledo Public Schools for greener pastures. Greener as in more money. A lot more.
Mr. Kolebuck will make $95,181 next year in the Sylvania system as the principal of Hill View Elementary. His base salary in TPS last year was $67,238.80, according to TPS records, although he made several thousand more through supplemental pay.
He's not the only principal to leave this year for a big raise. Kelly Welch, principal at Rogers High School, will make $94,291 next year as the principal of Whitmer High School in the Washington Local district. That's up from a base salary of $72,460.20 last year in Toledo. Also snagged by a local district was Raymer Elementary Principal James Lang, who will be paid $78,000 -- about a $10,000 raise -- as principal of Conneaut Elementary in Bowling Green.
The departures aren't unusual. Nearly every year, TPS loses principals to suburban districts that can pay more. And often, said Jim Gault, chief academic officer, Toledo loses the very leaders it needs most.
Not that he can blame them, when talking about amounts of money that large.
"The bottom line is, they are making significantly more in [leaving], and in many cases, [they are] dealing with less issues," Mr. Gault said.
The boys' academy at Smith Park isn't exactly the cushiest of gigs in Toledo.
The school has struggled with academic performance, as have most in the central city. While there's somewhat of an understanding by neighborhood gang members not to mess with the school, shootings, arsons, and even murders have occurred less than a block away in recent years. Willie Ward, the assistant principal, has a habit of walking staff members to their cars in the parking lot after school.
King Academy feels like an oasis in its neighborhood. The school focuses on both academics and character. Boys in dress shirts and ties hold doors open for strangers, greet them with handshakes, and are ever ready to offer assistance. District leaders frequently pointed to Mr. Kolebuck and Mr. Ward as a team of leaders making a difference in a tough environment.
Mr. Kolebuck declined to comment for this story. District officials said he was torn over the decision to leave, but that it's hard to blame him or other young principals who leave.
What's possibly most frustrating for Toledo Public Schools leaders is that the system designed by the district to combat its talent drain is a source of the talent still leaving. Mr. Kolebuck, Ms. Welch, and Mr. Lang were all products of the Urban Leadership Development Program, a collaboration between Toledo Public and the University of Toledo to develop administrators from within.
The district identifies internal administrative candidates, selects a cohort of about 25, and, along with UT, pays most of their tuition for a master's degree. The program is tailored to urban education and Toledo Public Schools in particular; where most administrative students learning about union contracts might use hypothetical agreements, ULDP students can refer to the Toledo Federation of Teachers contract and lessons specific to their upcoming assignments, said Cynthia Beekley, a professor in UT's department of educational foundations and leadership.
The program has been touted in Toledo and elsewhere as a way for an urban district to groom its own crop of leaders.
Mr. Gault, assistant superintendent Romules Durant, and Robinson Elementary principal Anthony Bronaugh are among the many ULDP products in Toledo schools.
But many other program alumni have moved on.
"We have given them their training, they've come to us, they've gone through different programs, they've made great inroads," Board of Education President Lisa Sobecki said at a recent board meeting, "and the next thing we know, they are getting recruited out of our district."
The departures create a ripple effect. Vacancies are often filled by teachers near to completing ULDP, creating vacancies in teaching positions. Robinson Elementary, a school piloting several reforms in the district, has four teachers entering ULDP this year, a badge of honor for the school but a possible future headache for Mr. Bronaugh, who may have to find teachers to replace them.
Program graduates make a commitment to stay in the Toledo schools for five years or repay part of their tuition cost -- a penalty that hasn't been enough to stifle the allure of huge pay raises.
While there is a perception among some that Toledo's staff, including principals, are overpaid, the district in many cases can't compete with suburban districts' salary offers. Years of deepening TPS budget cuts haven't helped.
"A lot of districts have raised their salaries to recruit," Ms. Beekley said. "Toledo has been unable to do that."
The situation puts district leaders on the same side of a financial debate as the administrators' union, from which the board of education has in recent years extracted financial concessions.
Don Yates, president of the Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel, said at a board meeting last week that the departures boil down to money.
"We can recruit them, we can train them, we can get them ready," he said, "but if we don't pay them, other districts will steal them away."
Board members have asked Superintendent Jerome Pecko to address the talent outflow. Bob Vasquez, a member of the board's human resources committee, said he wants an analysis of what TPS and area districts pay their administrators as well as a detailed succession plan, under which principals and district administrators mentor people to eventually take over for them.
That doesn't mean the Toledo schools will be able to match their neighbors' salaries, Mr. Vasquez said.
"Regardless," he said, "we should know where we stand with other school districts."
Eventually, TPS will have to raise salaries for principals if it wants to retain talent, Mr. Gault said. But instead of raising salaries across the board, he'd like to develop an incentive program for those showing the most positive impact on their schools.
Several schools next year, including Robinson, will pilot something in that vein; student performance on state tests will be used as an indicator for bonuses. District officials in coming years probably will urge that at least part of all principals' salaries be tied to student performance.
That's a bid both for accountability and to retain talent. Mr. Gault said that he believes if TPS had kept the principals lured away by suburban districts in recent years, Toledo would have jumped a rank on its state report card.
That's how important good leaders are, he said.
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6086.