Education, News

Report: Will General Assembly fix principal pay plan?

Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke

Today’s North Carolina education must-read comes from the Public School Forum of N.C., a policy and research group in Raleigh.

And its subject—principal pay and the apparent shortcomings in a recent state-led overhaul—should be of interest as legislators prepare to return to session in Raleigh next month.

According to the report’s author, Lindsay Wagner, hundreds of principals could face pay cuts in July without action from the legislature [Disclosure: Wagner is a former Policy Watch reporter].

From the Public School Forum:

It’s been a year and a half since a legislative committee heard testimony from education and business stakeholders about innovative ways to bring North Carolina principal pay up from its abysmal rank of 50th in the nation.

Since then, the General Assembly has enacted a new compensation model for public school principals that its proponents say is a huge improvement, offering substantial increases in pay that began last fall.

However, several experienced principals, superintendents and lawmakers say the new plan results in steep losses in pay for many veteran principals – a concern that’s been addressed with a hold harmless provision that prevented drops in pay this year, but is set to expire before the start of the next academic year.

And some say that the plan’s heavy reliance on schools’ academic growth scores is a disincentive for talented leaders to take on the daunting task of turning around chronically low-performing schools—a consequence that runs counter to the recommendations from advocates that pitched ideas to lawmakers back in 2016.

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“You don’t take a principal who has been successful with students in one school, ask him or her to go to a lower performing, troubled school with the idea of turning it around, and then say ‘and by the way, if you agree to take this on, you could end up taking a pay cut if you don’t make it work in a time frame that we would like to have it work in,’” said Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke), a former member of the Burke County school board and a member of the House education committee in an interview with the Public School Forum.

Rep. Blackwell, who voted for the new plan that was inserted into the state’s budget bill last year, says he’d like to see some key changes made to how principals are now paid during the upcoming legislative session. Those changes include extending the hold harmless provision and making tweaks to other aspects of the plan that go to the heart of its philosophy on how to pay principals—but he’s not optimistic those changes will come.

“I think we should do something, but my efforts to persuade others have thus far fallen on deaf ears,” said Blackwell. Alluding to past impasses between the House and Senate when it comes to education budgets, Blackwell said, “the House and the Senate have to both agree on some things.”

When lawmakers meet in May, the number one thing that will be up for consideration when it comes to principal pay will be extending the hold harmless provision. If not, there are very strong indications that veteran principals will retire en masse come the start of the new school year.

Rep. Blackwell says that he’s seen estimates that as many as 356 principals could see pay cuts beginning July 1—roughly 15 percent of the workforce. He says extending the hold harmless provision is critical along with eliminating disincentives for turning around struggling schools and adding more funds to the base salaries for principals, because what’s there is only a start.

State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey is urging lawmakers to extend the hold harmless provision. In a letter to the General Assembly last October, Cobey said:

“In a time when the talent pipeline for teachers and school administrators cannot keep up with the demand, and when some of our highly talented principals stand to lose an average of over $8,000 in pay, we respectfully request that you extend the “hold harmless” provision for all principals through fiscal year 2018-19,” wrote Cobey.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson, someone who has frequently been at odds with members of the State Board of Education, agrees with Cobey on the matter of extending the hold harmless provision.

“After conversations with lawmakers and principals, I am supportive of an extension of the hold-harmless provision to give school systems and principals more time to adjust to this new pay scale.

But Rep. Blackwell is not optimistic at this point that the House and Senate will find common ground on this matter. And neither is Buddy Collins.

“I’m discouraged by what I perceive is the unwillingness to look at the problems with this plan and work harder to get a solution,” said Collins.

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