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Principal pay in North Carolina: A closer look

Principals are the superheroes of our public schools. They are responsible for establishing and maintaining a positive school culture focused on student success; they lead teams averaging 50 adults – recruiting, developing and retaining teachers and staff; they manage an operating budget averaging $5 million, and they serve as the glue between the school and its surrounding community. And yet, for years, North Carolina ranked near the bottom nationally in principal pay. So in 2017, North Carolina invested in principal salaries – while also transforming the way principals are paid.

How did North Carolina pay principals before 2017?

For years, principals in North Carolina had the lowest pay in the southeast; and among the lowest in the country. And – like other states – the state paid principals based on school size, level of education and years of experience; with little accounting for the difficultly of the job or the principals’ effectiveness in their role. This type of system also rewarded principal by allowing them to move to less challenging schools, making it hard to attract and retain the our best school leaders to our highest-needs schools. Both the structure and level of principal compensation needed to be improved, according to the 2016 Legislative Committee on School-Based Administrators’ Pay.

How does North Carolina pay principals now?

In 2017, the North Carolina legislature completely restructured the salary schedule for principals in what may be the most innovative and student-focused pay structure in the country. The 2017-19 budget invested nearly $40 million in principal pay raises over the next two years. The updated schedule is based on the size of a school’s student population and the growth status of the school – which is derived from students’ performance on standardized End-of-Course and End-of-Grade exams.

Principals are also eligible for a stackable bonus based on their school-level growth scores – with doubles for principals in schools that have a “D” or “F” performance grade.

Editor’s note: This perspective was first published by Best NC. It has been posted with the author’s permission.


BEST NC (Business for Education Success and Transformation in NC) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition of business leaders committed to improving North Carolina’s education system. We do this by convening a broad constituency; encouraging collaboration around a shared, bold vision for education; and advocating for policies, research, programs, and awareness that will significantly improve education in North Carolina.