Editorial: Legislature's principal pay 'fix' may hurt schools with most need

Posted August 16

Kids going back to school.

CBC Editorial: Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017; Editorial # 8199
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

The General Assembly’s effort to “fix” public school principal pay may leave local school superintendents in a fix when it comes to putting the best principals into schools that need them the most.

The state’s principals are among the lowest paid in the nation. While the legislature’s new budget adds about $35 million statewide to principal pay, the new mandates that increase salaries are based on school size and student performance.

Principals at schools that meet or exceed expected growth can see significant bonuses. By the same standard, principals at schools that struggle academically, won’t be as likely to see that additional money.

Durham Public Schools Superintendent Bert L’Homme put it pretty bluntly at a recent school board meeting:

“A school that is at 100 percent free-and-reduced lunch and a transient population and is sitting at a crossroads and the population is changing year-to-year – for them to meet or exceed growth is difficult,” he said. “We’re going to have trouble recruiting top-of-the-line principals to go to low-performing schools.”

Student performance in a school can add as much as $13,000 to a principal’s pay. Principals will take jobs based on where they think they will be able to capture most of bonus money.

If low performing schools, alternative schools and others in distinct situations – and the students who attend them – are going to improve, they’ll need to have the best principals and teachers. Sound business practices would say that opportunities for better pay at those schools would be an incentive. Making experience a factor in the basic pay scale for principals would also help move those with practical know-how into schools with the greatest need.

The legislature’s leadership often contends it needs to do more than simply throw money at a problem.

Good business practices would suggest there be incentives to put the best school administrators in positions where they are most needed – not penalize them for taking on a challenge.

Adding $35 million to principal pay is commendable, but then setting up a system that discourages the best principals from taking on tough challenges isn’t good business and doesn’t help students do better.

Legislative leaders need to do more than talk about good business practices, they need to apply them. They need to do better in the next budget.


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