Group says 1 in 6 NC principals could have salaries drop by up to $18,000 this year

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One in six North Carolina principals could see pay cuts of $8,000 to $18,000 this year unless state lawmakers act, an advocacy group warned on Monday.

The new state budget changed how salaries for principals are determined. It now uses just one year of student test data instead of looking at three years of performance.

Katherine Joyce, executive director of the North Carolina Association of School Administrators, told a legislative committee that basing salaries on the 2021-22 school year only could have devastating financial consequences for 17% of the state’s principals.

“We were still not in a normal year last school year,” Joyce said. “We still had lots of student absences due to COVID and quarantining and isolation. We had teachers in and out of buildings for the same reasons so there was still a lot going on there. We could see huge dips in principal pay come Jan. 1.”

Joyce urged members of the N.C. House Committee on an Education System for North Carolina’s Future to back a “hold harmless” provision that would keep principals from seeing their salaries cut.

Rep. Phil Shepard, an Onslow County Republican, and Rep. Hugh Blackwell, a Burke County Republican, both said they hope the issue can be addressed.

Shepard said that “some of the best principals” in Onslow County have reached out to him to express concerns about the looming pay cut.

“Since we’ve gone through COVID, some of them are still struggling to get back on their feet and so on and so forth,” Shepard said. “It concerns me because I know that these are people that don’t complain.

“They don’t call me every time something goes wrong, and when they emailed me I felt something bad is going on here with principal pay.”

But a spokesperson for Senate leader Phil Berger has said the Senate is not considering a hold harmless provision.

Paying principals for performance

Since 2017, the state has paid principals based on how many students are at their school and whether their school’s test scores met or exceeded growth expectations. It replaced a system where principals were paid based mainly on their years of education experience and whether they had advanced degrees.

Lisa Brown, principal of Green Elementary School, sanitizes cafeteria tables, March 15, 2021 at the Raleigh school.
Lisa Brown, principal of Green Elementary School, sanitizes cafeteria tables, March 15, 2021 at the Raleigh school.

The new model, coupled with increases in state funding, has led the average salary of North Carolina principals to rise from $66,821 in the 2010-11 school year to $80,855 in the 2020-21 school year.

North Carolina has “risen from near last in the country” in 2015 to 3rd highest in the Southeast in principal pay, according to Leah Sutton, vice president of policy and engagement for BEST NC.

BEST NC is a business coalition focused on education that helped state leaders come up with the new principal pay model.

“There’s improvements that certainly can be made on this schedule, but the early impacts of using performance have been quite good and the research bears that out,” Sutton told the committee.

Modifying the pay model

Sutton didn’t directly touch on the controversy over the looming pay cuts. But she told the committee that the model could be revised to include multiple measures.

The model might want to take into account the complexities of running individual schools, Sutton said. This could include factoring in things such as how many students are academically gifted or how many students receive special education services, according to Sutton.

Sutton said other performance measures could be considered such as the working conditions at the school, how much student performance has improved over time and how well the school is closing achievement gaps.

Joyce of the N.C. Association of School Administrators also called Monday for using multiple measures for determining principal pay. But for now, she called for adopting a hold harmless provision before Dec. 31.