Education

Should principals get paid more based on school test scores? Wake school board says no.

Matt Wight, principal of Apex Friendship High School in Apex, N.C., watches as students change classes on Sept. 13, 2017. North Carolina lawmakers changed the way principals are paid from a systemr based on experience to one based on students performance on exams.
Matt Wight, principal of Apex Friendship High School in Apex, N.C., watches as students change classes on Sept. 13, 2017. North Carolina lawmakers changed the way principals are paid from a systemr based on experience to one based on students performance on exams. khui@newsobserver.com

Wake County school board members want to give all 180 principals a 5 percent raise this year even though the principals backed another plan that would award different amounts based on how well schools performed on exams.

Under the North Carolina’s new pay scale, Wake’s principals would be entitled to raises of 3, 6 or 9 percent this school year based on whether their schools met or exceeded growth on state exams. Wake school board members called the use of performance pay unfair for principals, particularly those who work at high-poverty schools, and backed a proposal Thursday to give all principals a 5 percent raise.

“Performance pay deals with performance tasks,” school board member Jim Martin said at Thursday’s school board finance committee meeting. “Performance pay does not help learning.”

Martin had put together data showing that growth scores are lower at Wake’s high-poverty schools.

The full school board could adopt the new pay plan for the 2017-18 school year on Tuesday.

Wake County school board member Jim Martin explains why the board wants to give all principals a 5-percent raise instead of different percentages based on their school’s test scores.

Superintendent Jim Merrill said principals who had attended a recent district meeting had expressed a “clear preference” for the differentiated pay raises over identical raises. He said administrators will have to be clear on how they explain the school board’s actions to principals.

“It was a conscience vote on the part of the board and the alternative is to give as much to all of you (principals) above where you were in ’16-17 as they could at 5 percent across the board,” Merrill said.

As part of the Republican-led General Assembly’s efforts to change public education, this year the state switched from paying principals based on their education experience to paying them based on how their students do on exams.

Supporters say the new plan provides a needed increase for underpaid principals while putting a focus on improving how students perform. But critics worry the change will discourage principals from working at struggling schools and lead to veteran principals retiring.

Under the new state pay schedule, Wake principals at schools that didn’t meet growth on exams or who were new to their school would get a 3 percent raise this year. Raises would rise to 6 percent for principals at schools that met growth and 9 percent for those at schools that exceeded growth.

The majority of Wake principals would get raises of 3 or 6 percent under the state plan. But some Wake principals could see raises of as much as $22,000 this year if the state pay scale is followed.

School finance staff had presented to the school board last month the options of the 3 to 9 percent raises or the across-the-board 5 percent raises. After school board members complained about the use of performance pay, a third option was presented Thursday to give principals raises of 4 to 6 percent depending on whether their schools met or exceeded growth.

But school board members objected to the new option as well, saying it would show they supported the state’s concept of paying principals based on test scores.

“It’s not that performance pay is a bad concept,” said school board member Bill Fletcher. “It’s that this job, this role, the importance of leading a staff of 110 and making sure that 2,600 children are safe and educated – it’s not an incentive. It’s based on a very slim portion of what the principal actually does.”

In addition to the short-term issues, Wake school staff are working on a long-term plan to deal with how veteran principals could see deep pay cuts in the new state scale.

Since the scale doesn’t take into account years of education experience, Wake school officials say some veteran principals could lose as much as $28,000 a year in pay.

Lawmakers agreed to make sure no principals saw pay cuts this school year. But that “hold harmless” budget provision expires at the end of June.

School officials say around 30 highly experienced Wake principals might retire at the end of the school year to avoid a deep pay cut. School administrators are studying what Wake should do, including potentially making up any money that the state might cut.

“Are we going to be able to do it in time so that we don’t see an exodus?” said school board Vice Chairwoman Christine Kushner. “I cannot blame those 30 educators who are on the cusp of retiring from taking such a risk with the rest of their retirement money.”

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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