Complicating simplicity never yields positive results. Yet, complicating matters unnecessarily (tasks, situations, and events) is standard practice for our education bureaucracy. A classic example is the present-day job description of a school principal. Bureaucrats have managed to turn a simple management job into some nightmarish gulag sentence to be served somewhere between the real world and hell.

Across Canada and the United States, 60,000 job vacancies for principals will need filling by 2005. A dire shortage of qualified leaders to fill the position is forecast. The experts predict that quality of education will suffer (some more). Why has a prestigious school-management position, vied for in the past, turned into something to be avoided like the plague.

The importance of a good principal cannot be overstressed. It is the principal who makes the school a success or a failure. He/she sets the mood of the school the morale and its esprit de corps. A good principal has the professional ability, integrity, and leadership qualities to inspire enthusiasm in and elicit respect from his subordinates. The management duties of a principal are simple and similar to those of a manager of a smallish enterprise in the real world. It is not a major management role equal to that of a CEO of a large corporation, as the president of the Canadian Association of Principals would have us believe. He is simply trying to make a "mountain out of a molehill."

It should be easy to fill the school principal position. It is a prestigious position; the work environment is (or at least, could be) congenial; the pay is good; there are no high-pressure performance requirements; the appointment comes with iron-clad job security, regardless of performance; holiday and social security benefits are unrivaled anywhere in the private sector; and the position offers access to unlimited upper management support and resources.

Here is an official job description for a school principal: "The principal is responsible for the organization and management of the school, as well as for discipline and the quality of instruction. He or she is the principal teacher in the school. In addition to his or her teaching duties, the principal is responsible for–

In situations where the board feels that a school principal needs help with his or her duties, usually because of the size of the school, it may appoint one or more vice-principals to assist the principal in carrying out his or her duties."

Anyone managing a private concern would see nothing onerous or complicated about that job description and would welcome the challenge for the benefits that go along with the position. So what makes being a principal such an unattractive proposition today? Well for starters, the fact that it is not a performance-based management position takes away any incentive: there is no reward for superior performance and no penalty for shoddy management. That in itself demoralizes any conscientious manager, which leads to lackluster performance in the best.

The principal should be left to control the management of the school, and as long as he/she maintains a harmonious environment and the students excel, no one should be interfering or complicating the principal's management duties. However, that is no longer the case today. The education bureaucrats have put a whole new spin on what a management job entails, and that's why the much sought-after position of principal has become a pariah to be avoided.

The bureaucrats have seen fit, for politically-correct reasons, to invite everyone to participate in the education process and interfere with the principal's school management task. Apparently the bureaucrats have never heard about too many cooks spoiling the broth.

Here, again, is an official directive on the bureaucrats' concept of "democratic" school management. Everyone gets to exercise their democratic right to tell the principal how to run the school: oh, joy!

". . . education reforms will significantly affect the role of school principals. As educational leaders, principals continue to lead and manage their schools. But they will have to place increased emphasis on gaining access to and using community resources and on listening and responding to the ideas and questions of staff, parents and the public." (Talk about creating a Tower of Babel scenario! Small wonder no one wants to be a principal under such conditions.)

Give the school management back to the principal; offer monetary incentives and acclamation for superior performance; impose penalties and dismissal for irresponsible management; and establish a simple chain of command and reporting procedure between principal, school council, and the ministry. If school principals are left to manage their schools without undue interference, the appointment will regain the prestige it rightly deserves and used to enjoy. Given the right to manage without undue interference, the school principal job will become a much sought after position once more. The shortage of school principals is not due to lack of candidates willing to assume responsibility; it is the result of bureaucratic bungling that has complicated a simple management job beyond all reason.

Jann Flury