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School Superintendent and Principal Groups to 'Consolidate'

By guest blogger Sarah D. Sparks

In the wake of dropping membership and deepening economic woes, the nation's largest professional groups for district superintendents and elementary school principals have thrown their lot in together.

As part of a "functional consolidation," the Arlington, Va.-based American Association of School Administrators plans to move into the offices of its Alexandria, Va. neighbor, the National Association of Elementary School Principals in the next one to two years. Each group will keep its own name, board, leaders and members, but will share staff, space and purchasing power, according to Daniel A. Domenech, AASA's executive director, who expects the consolidation will save AASA at least $500,000.

"Instead of having two of every department we'll have one, and we'll have the opportunity to be more cost effective and save money at a time when the economy is putting a lot of pressure on our organizations and all administrators and principals," Mr. Domenech told Education Week on a quick call between sessions at the group's annual conference in Denver, Colo.

Membership stabilized this year to about 20,000 for NAESP and 13,000 for AASA, but both organizations have faced tough choices in the past few years, as tighter school and district budgets led to thinning ranks. NAESP lost $1.4 million in operating money in 2009-10 due to lower membership in the last two years, NAESP Executive Director Gail Connelly told board members at a meeting Feb. 2-3. And for the group's million-dollar-a-year annual convention "it is becoming more and more challenging to financially break even," she said.

NAESP officials have not yet responded to attempts to contact them, but in a letter announcing the consolidation to the board, NAESP President Barbara Chester said "in these economic and turbulent times, it often feels like a herd of buffaloes has stampeded into our lives, creating chaos, and uprooting the status quo. ... Rather than allowing the challenges of our 'stampeding buffaloes' to overwhelm us, we have deliberately taken action to assess our resources, investigate alternative operating procedures, and determine options at our disposal to confront and overcome these challenges."

Both groups have proposed to raise membership dues this year, by $20 for NAESP and by $10 for AASA. Both groups also saw high staff turnover in the past two years, and Mr. Domenech said the groups likely would merge the two staffs through attrition rather than by firing employees.

Mr. Domenech and Noelle Ellerson, AASA's assistant director for policy analysis and advocacy, said the consolidation will allow the groups to merge lobbying efforts in time for the next reauthorization of federal education law. "We'll be able to stand for issues in Washington that affect education policy—laws being proposed—and speak with one voice," Mr. Domenech said. "That's definitely a benefit that's beyond financial."

Among the superintendents at the Denver convention, "The feel on the ground here is good," Ms. Ellerson said. "They work closely with their elementary school principals and they think it's good that their national organization would do the same thing. They're interested to see how it all turns out."

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