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Fix to principal pay possible this week

A possible change to the new principal pay schedule could be coming during this week’s special session, but it may only assist principals who were paid on the teacher salary scale last year. 

The session starts today, and topics like judicial redistricting and veto overrides are likely the main event, but Rep. Linda Johnson, R-Cabarrus, one of the leaders of budget efforts in the House during the long session, said the legislature may also look at principal pay. 

“I think if we can reach agreement, it will be taken up this week,” she said. 

The main item in the principal pay schedule that could be addressed relates to principals who might lose money this year under the new pay schedule. This is because of a flaw in the “hold harmless” provision in the budget.

Under the new principal pay schedule many principals receive raises, but some would actually see pay reductions. For those who would receive less pay, the “hold harmless” provision ensures they will get at least as much money as they did last year. But the provision may not help all principals avoid a reduction. 

Under the old schedule, a principal could be paid on the teacher salary schedule if he or she would make more money given his or her years of experience. 

But for those principals that opted to do that last year, the hold harmless provision in the new principal salary schedule apparently does not apply.

“It applies only to principals who were paid on the principal salary schedule last year,” said Katherine Joyce, executive director of the N.C. Association of School Administrators.

Those who were not could be getting reductions this year despite the hold harmless, she said, adding that only a small number of principals are affected. 

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, an influential education legislator, said he hopes that by addressing this issue, it will show that legislators are still paying attention to principals.

“What we want to do in the special session is to ease the mind of the principals,” he said. “Deal with it. Give them some kind of a reasonable assurance that we’re not just forgetting about them.”

But Johnson said she also hopes to tackle a larger problem. That hold harmless provision only lasts one year under the language in the budget so principals held harmless this year could see pay cuts next year.  

Johnson did not specify exactly how this could be fixed. Possible options could be extending the hold harmless or finding another fix that would ensure no loss of pay for any principals. 

But whether the legislature tackles the larger issue may be out of Johnson’s or other House members’ hands. It requires action by both chambers. 

Shelly Carver, a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tempore, Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said no decision has been made as to what will be done during this special session.

“Our members will need to caucus when they return to Raleigh before we’ll know which items they intend to take up,” she said in an e-mail. 

Horn said he thought it likely the larger issue would have to wait for now. 

The State Board of Education has discussed for the past few months problems with the principal pay schedule, including the hold harmless provision. Vice Chair Buddy Collins said he thinks the General Assembly will ultimately fix the issues. 

“I have always been confident that they did not intend to hurt principals,” he said. “In fact, I applaud them for putting so much money into principal pay.” 

Johnson said legislators knew when they took on principal pay that there may be oversights. The previous principal pay schedule created numerous problems, noted in prior reporting by EducationNC, and it was in place for years. One of the goals of the new principal pay schedule was to fix those problems. 

“There were 4,000 ways to fix it,” Johnson said. “We knew we would probably miss one.” 

But there was also a joint legislative study committee on principal pay, co-chaired by Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, prior to the long session, and Johnson said legislators were fairly confident they had covered their bases. 

“We finally did tackle it, and we did it through Blackwell’s committee, and not only did we make a mistake, but everybody who was there loved it,” she said. 

State Superintendent Mark Johnson sent the following e-mail in support of the General Assembly’s principal raises this morning. 

“Staff has provided and continues to provide information requested by the General Assembly regarding principal pay. I appreciate their investment of an additional 35 million dollars to pay our 2,500 principals. I am also so grateful that many talented principals volunteer to lead improvement in some of our most struggling schools,” he said. “They will now have the opportunity to be financially rewarded for accepting that challenge. I appreciate the General Assembly’s work to create a pay system that ensures those principals are best compensated for their service.”

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.