The 2017 state budget significantly changed the way the state's nearly 2,500 principals are paid, and that has members of the State Board of Education simultaneously grateful and worried.
The new budget provides almost $35 million more for principal pay across the board -- good news in North Carolina, which ranked last out of 50 states in average school administrator pay last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The General Assembly also shifted principal's salary schedules from a model based on experience -- including increases for longevity and advanced degrees -- to one based on school improvement, measured in test scores. The State Board of Education heard a report on the changes at its September meeting.
Under the new schedule, many principals will see raises and other, mainly veteran, principals face losses of up to around $20,000.
The boost in pay will be felt more by principals currently at the bottom of the pay scale, and especially by principals whose schools exceed growth benchmarks for standardized tests. State lawmakers say the new formula rewards principals who go to low-performing schools and turn them around.
Overall, the new salary formula reduces the top of the principal pay scale from over $110,000 to under $90,000.
About 350 principals who would have seen pay cuts this year under the new schedule are currently being protected under a "hold harmless" clause set to expire next June. The Board voted Thursday to direct its staff and State Superintendent Mark Johnson to call on the General Assembly to extend those salary protections.
Their concern is that many veteran principals will react by retiring.
"If that happens, we will have a tremendous drain of experience that will walk out of the door in many districts," said the Board's Vice Chair A.L. "Buddy" Collins.
Many principals are under contract to give notice of their retirement -- some as long as 6 months.
"They have a decision window that's going to close, probably before the legislature returns in the short session to make further adjustments to the law," Collins said.
The Board voted unanimously to express its appreciation for additional funding for principal pay while also urging lawmakers to take action during its during the current special session to extend the "hold harmless" provision through next school year .
The General Assembly passed its technical corrections bill later Thursday. The bill included a change to the principal pay measure that extended the "hold harmless" clause to principals paid on a teacher pay schedule, who would have seen pay cuts during this school year due to language of the appropriations bill. The State Board of Education does not know how many principals fell into that category, but those principals are separate from the 350 currently being held harmless.