San Diego Unified has agreed that it broke the rules in hiring principals from outside the district and outside the union, and it is now hammering out an agreement on how to compensate principals who were hurt. The settlement that could cost the school district as it faces a $141.6 million deficit.

The dispute highlights the clash between union rules and the new push in San Diego Unified to allow schools to make their own decisions. The district wants to allow schools to pick a principal that fits their school, but the new labor guidelines limit its hiring pool.

It’s also the first major dispute between San Diego Unified and its newly unionized principals.

Principals say the union rules were supposed to ensure that all principals got a job before the district turned to outside hires, promoted teachers or allowed top managers to be bumped down.

The administrators union filed a grievance over the issue in late July, saying the district had taken part in “unlawful hiring.” Gloria Chavez, who handles the district’s labor relations, said the hiring rules had, indeed, been violated. But she cautioned that principals can’t simply be placed at schools, because schools should have a say in who leads them.

“Nobody wants to be running a school where the community doesn’t believe they fit,” Chavez said.

The dispute is even more interesting because principals have been on the other side of the issue.

They’ve complained about similar rules in teacher contracts that restrict hiring, arguing that it can sometimes prevent them from choosing who they want.

The union and the school district are still working out how to resolve the problem. It could cost San Diego Unified: Principals who weren’t hired properly could get a payout. How much they would get and who gets the money is still being worked out.

“In a more strident union atmosphere, the demand might be to remove the bad hires and replace them with people that should have been hired. But we don’t have an interest in disrupting the school environment,” said Robin Whitlow, chief negotiator for the administrators association.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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