Politics & Government

NC principals could see salary increases and bonuses if some legislators have their way

Some principals could earn performance or signing bonuses under a legislative proposal that aims to keep and reward effective leaders in poor school districts or at struggling schools.

A legislative study committee on principal and assistant principal pay voted Thursday on recommendations it will send to the House and Senate. The committee is focused on two issues, raising principal pay, and keeping talented principals in schools where they’re most needed.

The average principal makes $64,209 a year, a salary near the bottom of national rankings. Statewide, salaries show a wide range because some districts pay principals supplements of more than $20,000 a year, and some districts offer no extra money on top of the state-funded salary.

No cost estimate was attached to the proposals.

Part of the recommendation is to give school districts what Sen. Jerry Tillman called a type of block grant and letting them decide, within certain guidelines, how to spend it on bonuses.

“This is a big, big change,” he said.

The legislature has focused on raising teacher pay over the last few years, but principal pay has barely budged.

“We haven’t done anything for administrators in a long time,” said Tillman, an Archdale Republican and one of the study committee leaders.

If the full General Assembly considers the suggestions, they are likely to be changed as other legislators and budget writers rework them.

Principals in low-wealth districts and principals at low-performing schools in other districts would be eligible for the bonuses. The extra money would be awarded based on specific criteria that could include improving school performance, improving school discipline, or “creating a positive community impression.”

Superintendents would also be able to use the money for principal signing or retention bonuses.

There’s a balance between being too prescriptive and giving districts so much flexibility that they don’t achieve the legislature’s intent, said Rep. Hugh Blackwell, a Burke County Republican and committee co-chairman.

“The focus needs to be on student success and student outcomes,” he said.

The committee also recommended raising base pay for principals with either a 3 percent increase or by linking their pay to the master’s level teacher salary schedule, and paying a certain percentage more. Assistant principals could be paid similarly – a percentage on top of master’s level teacher’s pay.

Tillman said 3 percent was a conservative recommendation. “I’m hoping we can go higher than that,” he said.

Shirley Prince, executive director of the N.C. Principals and Assistant Principals’ Association, said the committee came up with a “workable plan.” She was encouraged that committee leaders considered a 3 percent raise in base pay “just a start.”

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner