When Pittsburgh Public Schools awarded $327,099 in bonuses to principals and administrators recently, the biggest bonus -- $11,800 -- went to Debra Rucki, principal of Arsenal 6-8.
Ms. Rucki, who joined the Arsenal faculty in 1979 and has been principal since 1997, has made helping students in the Lawrenceville school her life's work.
"I don't work for the bonus. I work to improve the lives of students in the Arsenal community, and that's the truth," she said. "That's just kinda who I am, and that's what I'm about."
She praised the school's devoted teachers, academic coaches, social worker and other staff members for helping students, including contacting parents, analyzing student performance data and tutoring many students after school and on Saturdays.
"We kinda bleed Arsenal," she said.
Ms. Rucki and other principals at regular city schools were eligible for up to $12,000 in bonuses for 2009-10.
Principals at accelerated learning academies -- which have a longer school day and year -- were eligible for $10,000 for meeting special academy goals on top of that for a total of $22,000.
Sixty-six of 68 principals, including acting principals, received a total of $278,974 in bonuses for their work in 2009-10, which is $23,392 less than the prior year. Seven administrators shared $48,125 in bonuses, which is $34,750 less than the prior year.
This was the fourth year for bonuses under a pay-for-performance plan that began with ALA principals and later was expanded to cover all principals and certain central office administrators.
Pittsburgh school Superintendent Mark Roosevelt, who is leaving the district next month after more than five years at the helm, said it has been difficult to single out the impact of the bonuses.
"I think it contributes to the overall movement towards a performance-based culture. I don't think you can tell if it's because of this [bonuses]. Multiple things are happening at the same time. When I got here, we didn't evaluate principals at all.
"This change is part of a systematic effort to make evaluation and accountability an integral part of the culture."
He said principals now get a "pretty robust evaluative document" showing them their strengths as well as weaknesses to work on. He cautioned that this year's results represent just one year's data. "One year's data is never as reliable as multiple years data," he said.
Of the possible $12,000 bonus, $10,000 was determined by student achievement measures and $2,000 was for other performance measures, such as community engagement and following the district's improvement agenda.
The portion of the $2,000 that was earned is added to the principal's base pay. The rest of the bonus is not.
The average bonus for regular principals was $4,252, and the average for learning academy principals was $5,070.
The bonuses were added on top of the principal base pay, which ranged from $98,435 to $108,115 a year.
Principals of special schools were not eligible for student achievement bonuses because their students scores are attributed to their home schools or their students don't take traditional assessments. But most received a $2,000 performance increment.
The principal of one special school, Dalhart Dobbs at the Pittsburgh Student Achievement Center, did not receive a bonus.
One other principal, Carla Berdnik, who was principal at Pittsburgh Woolslair and now is acting assistant principal at Pittsburgh Greenfield K-8 and acting assistant principal at Pittsburgh Faison PreK-8, also did not receive a bonus.
Seven administrators were eligible for up to $15,000 each. Their bonuses were based on how the district as a whole did, rather than the schools under their wings. Each received the same bonus.
The lower amount than last year is at least in part a reflection on the fact that the district made all of its targets for adequate yearly progress, known as AYP, in 2008-09, but did not make them all of them in 2009-10. AYP is part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The bonus for central administrators applies to Linda Lane, deputy superintendent; and Paulette Poncelet, chief of research, assessment and accountability as well as five assistant superintendents: Barbara Rudiak, Jeannine French, Christiana Otuwa, Jerri Lippert and Patricia Gennari, who recently retired. Their base salaries ranged from $118,232 to $164,000. Under his contract, Derrick Lopez, assistant superintendent for secondary schools, is not part of the group eligible for the bonus.
For bonuses this round, the district considered which schools are high need and therefore are more difficult to turn around.
Arsenal 6-8 is among the high-need schools.
In 2008-09, Arsenal, as it has in other years, missed making AYP. It hit 20 of 21 targets. In 2009-10, it hit all 18 of its targets for AYP.
The 2010 state test results showed that 43.2 percent of Arsenal students overall were proficient in reading and 51.2 percent in math. Its student attendance rate is 92 percent.
The top amount earned by a learning academy principal was $9,910 for James Nath, who has been principal of Pittsburgh Murray PreK-8 since it became a learning academy in fall 2006.
"I'm just thankful for the teachers I got and the kids I have. It's a great group of people," he said.
Among the eight learning academies, the second highest after Mr. Nath was David May-Stein, Pittsburgh Colfax K-8, $8,550.
Among principals in regular schools, the top five bonuses for 2009-10 went to Ms. Rucki; Monica Lamar, Pittsburgh Dilworth PreK-5, $7,740; Sandy Och, Pittsburgh Carmalt PreK-8, $6,580; Laura Dadey, Pittsburgh Sunnyside K-8, $6,180; and Alivia Clark, Pittsburgh Morrow PreK-5, $5,940.