True North Negotiating

The most significant consideration for negotiating your contract starts with identifying what is most important to you. Whether you are destined to keep the ship afloat or be a driving force for change, negotiating a successful contract sets both you and the board on a path where all parties must find their true north. Once this foundation is established, parties operate from a win-win, less adversarial position that sets up both you and the board for long term success. If you are looking for a road map to negotiate your first, or last contract, here are some tips for planning your route.

Central Office Administrators, Principals, and Teachers in bargaining units have representatives who negotiate contracts. As superintendent, you are on your own and now have the control – for better or worse — to articulate those non-negotiable values aligned to your true north. While boards generally negotiate with superintendents for salary, insurance, days off, length of contract, reimbursement for expenses incurred in performance of the job, as superintendent you’ll need to decide what’s best for you before entering into negotiations. Is the top priority salary, work-life balance, housing, health benefits, security? Make a list and prioritize it. What is important to a new superintendent in a particular community may be completely different to a veteran superintendent who is negotiating his or her final contract. Regardless, it is essential to clearly determine what you must have, what you can live with, and what you can do without and spell out those priorities clearly to the board and in contract language.

Evaluate both the market and the community you will be serving. If you have assessed the market value of the contract as X but your individual needs are Y, negotiate the difference. Remember, the board wants you and needs you as their leader. It is in the best interest of the district for them to meet your needs so make that clear. That is the win-win! Bringing data to the table will help you. A market analysis of superintendents’ compensation in similar districts, a comparison of housing costs, and COLA trends are examples. Consider whether it’s advantageous to make up the difference in the first year or over three years. For example, you may negotiate a high starting salary and agree not to take an increase for three years or you may want to take the lower salary and build in a guaranteed COLA plus percentage the following years.

Build upon strong communication strategies to make the next contract negotiation as successful as the last and start renegotiating early. Continue to assess what works for both parties through the superintendent evaluation process.  Your goal should be to have the evaluation conclude with the board desiring to retain their CEO. It is incumbent upon you to assist the board in understanding that great things happen when the board and superintendent maintain strong, positive working relationships based on a clear and fair contractual framework. Much like teachers who cite positive working conditions as the biggest reason they stay in the profession, superintendents who successfully negotiate their win-win contracts are those who continue in long term relationships with their boards and are more likely to positively impact school effectiveness and sustain positive changes. Know your true north, understand the value of the win-win, and let the contract serve as a framework for both you and the board.