It was a jollier-than-usual bunch of DCPS principals who cheered Chancellor Kaya Henderson during their monthly “academy” at Eastern High School on Oct. 12. That’s because they’d recently learned about the hefty salary increases that will make them among the highest-paid school leaders in the region.

After watching the teachers they oversee get a five-year, 21.6 percent increase in base pay—boosting average annual salaries from $67,000 to about $81,000, along performance bonuses adding up to another $25,000--the principals are getting their own pay day.

Under the new salary scale, retroactive to the beginning of school year 2010-11, average pay will rise from roughly $106,000 to $123,000. Starting salary for an elementary school principal goes from $88,000 to $100,000. For a new middle school leader, pay rises from $91,924 to $106,000. The maximum for high school principals grows from $117,000 to $174,000. That’s considerably beyond Fairfax ($146,000) and Montgomery ($156,000) according to a table assembled by DCPS. Movement up the pay scale will be determined by performance, not longevity or postgraduate degrees, as is the traditional practice.

The raises come despite an impasse in negotiations between the District and the principals’ union, the Council of School Officers (CSO). Their contract expired in 2007, but DCPS invoked a clause that allows it award pay increases of up to $20,000 per person.

The CSO represents not just 116 principals but another 600 or so assistant principals, early childhood coordinators, psychologists, social workers and business managers who are getting nothing. A small group of principals, while pleased with their situation, asked for a meeting with human capital chief Jason Kamras to protest the lack of fairness to their assistant principals and other staff.

“I don’t think Jason or chancellor realize the negative impact this will have,” said CSO president Aona Jefferson. It’s wrong. All of our members are due an increase.” Even more frustrating, she said, was that before talks broke down in 2010, Henderson’s position was that there was no money for anyone.

Henderson said that was true at the time. “During negotiations in 2010, we were at a point in the budget year where we were making cuts,” she said in an e-mail Monday. When additional federal dollars became available later, she said, “we prioritized bringing principals up to par with their peers as a first step instead of giving both principals and assistant principals smaller raises.” Assistant principals are the next priority, Henderson said. The current starting salary for assistant principals is $82,000.

As for others in the bargaining unit, Henderson is less committal. She said the average $70,000 a year that school business managers make “is not a shabby salary,” and that she’d be disinclined to start raising the pay scale.

Jefferson said the union is trying to bring the matter to arbitration.