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Senate Republicans move to address lagging school principal pay, infrastructure

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Moore, Randolph

Powerful Senate Republicans are moving to address a pair of looming issues for North Carolina public schools: principal pay and the state’s aging school facilities.

Acknowledging well-covered troubles in both categories, a trio of GOP senators—Jerry Tillman, Ralph Hise and Harry Brown—filed draft legislation Thursday diverting millions in state lottery funds to both issues.

Among its provisions, the bill would funnel $13.7 million in recurring lottery funds to a system of increased pay for school principals. In addition, the proposed legislation would create a principal bonus program that lawmakers say could be used by districts to reward principals for strong leadership or school performance.

As Policy Watch reported last year, principal pay in North Carolina is among the lowest in the nation, prompting calls from both Republicans and Democrats to reform administrators’ salary schedule.

However, in lieu of reforming that much-maligned schedule, the GOP bill filed Thursday would give leaders in the N.C. Department of Public Instruction leeway to allocate cash to school districts to bump up administrator pay.

“We’re trying to get off of 50th in the nation,” said Tillman, a former school administrator himself. “You can’t have a good school without good principals.”

Under the proposal, each district would receive a certain amount per principal based on the state’s average total pay plus 7 percent.

The legislation would also create a school construction fund based on a district’s needs, budgeting $100 million in lottery-backed grant funds each year for economically distressed counties lacking the tax base to properly fund school infrastructure needs.

Rural counties are badly in need of additional state spending on school construction, said Brown, who represents Jones and Onslow counties, a pair of relatively low-income counties in eastern North Carolina.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Jones, Onslow

“We’re talking about facilities that are 30, 40, 50, 100 years old,” said Brown. “They are in desperate need of repairs.”

Hise, who represents several rural counties in western North Carolina, agreed.

“If we’re not going to make these investments in our rural areas, we’re going to continue the spiral so many of our rural areas are dealing with now,” said Hise.

Katherine Joyce, executive director of the N.C. Association of School Administrators (NCASA), told Policy Watch Thursday that her group appreciates the lawmakers’ focus on high-need areas for K-12 schools, although she expressed reservations about the format lobbed by GOP lawmakers.

“We are vetting this proposal with our membership now but have previously raised concerns about a shift to block grant funding that may make it more difficult to recruit teachers into critical school leadership roles in the absence of a guaranteed base salary set by the state,” Joyce said in a statement. “We are committed to working with the sponsors and all lawmakers to ensure progress is made in the right way on both principal pay and school capital needs and see this new legislation as a positive first step.”

Legislators are introducing Thursday’s legislation separate from the GOP’s final budget, which is still in the development stages. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper announced his budget proposal last week, a spending package that includes $20 million in pay raises for school administrators, including an average 6.5 percent raise for principals now and a recurring 2 percent raise.

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