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A Principal’s perspective: It’s time for the state to restructure the salary schedule for principals

I wish I could win the lottery and be able to volunteer to do my job. That would allow me to hire another teacher for my school. It also would eliminate the frustration that I feel when I think about my salary.

I love what I do. I don’t dwell on the pay because being happy is more important than getting a big paycheck.

In 2012, I completed the National Board Pilot for Principal Certification before it was unexpectedly cancelled. Because of this, I received no boost to my pay.

If I needed to increase my salary, here are my options: a doctoral program or picking up a second job. The salary increase for the advanced degree is $256 a month — compared to the cost of the degree, this investment wouldn’t begin to pay off for me for about 10 years.

As an aside, when the National Board sought candidates for the Principal Certification Program, I was very excited about this as a pathway for additional earnings since our state rewards those earning certification with a salary increase. In 2012, I completed the National Board Pilot for Principal Certification before it was unexpectedly cancelled. Because of this, I received no boost to my pay.

I am happy where I live and work. The answer is not for me to go back to school. The answer is not for me to pick up a second job. To earn more, I should not have to change professions or move to another county or state. The answer is for the state to restructure its salary schedule for principals.

When I moved from my previous district, my move was based on location and size of the district. From a personal perspective, I wanted a place where my family would have access to cultural arts, universities, shopping, and safe neighborhoods with good schools.

Not all principals are compensated in the same way across the state due to local supplemental funding and the ability to negotiate.

A contributing factor to the earning potential for a principal is that of the local supplement. Not all principals are compensated in the same way across the state due to local supplemental funding and the ability to negotiate. Local school boards also may adopt policies to recruit and retain highly qualified administrators in hard-to-staff areas. Districts with a strong local economy may have more to invest in their schools; those areas with a sluggish economy may need to spread funds further.

Based on 2014 data from the NC Department of Public Instruction , the current district where I work ranks 30th in the state for the average principal supplement — $10,238, which is below the state average of $11,854. Prior to relocating, I worked in a district that was very generous with local supplements for principals, ranking 9th in the state with an average of $16,931. When I changed districts, the supplement did not follow me, leading to a pay cut.

In my current position, I am surrounded by seven districts. Of these, two offer local supplements well below my current district while all others are higher. I could drive the same distance to work each day to work in the 6th highest ranking district in the state for local principal supplements.

But I am professionally and personally happy at my school; why should there be this odd incentive to change districts? Looking at the data, I was surprised to see four districts offer no local supplements for principals at all.

If you are not familiar with the principal salary schedule, it is filled with complexities that make it difficult to figure out your true earnings from the state.

If you are not familiar with the principal salary schedule, it is filled with complexities that make it difficult to figure out your true earnings from the state. For example, there is bonus percentage on base pay which is connected to programs that are no longer in place — such as safe schools and the ABCs. According to page 27 of the state salary schedule, these are “no longer awarded,” however the “incentive is added to the base salary and continues to be paid if the principal or assistant principal moves to a different school.” So, it appears that if you were a principal during 1997-2000 and earned one of these bonuses, you still get it. Because I was not a principal during the designated years, I will never see the bonus percentages shown in the state salary scale for safe schools or for meeting ABC targets. There hasn’t been an opportunity for me to earn any bonus.

Another false impression is that principals earn more than teachers. Based on my years of experience, I found where I would place on the teacher salary schedule and the principal salary schedule. I compared my current base pay as a principal to what I would earn as a teacher. In a comparison of monthly earnings, here is the difference: As a National Board Certified Teacher with a Masters degree, I would earn a monthly salary of $5,307; as a principal, my monthly salary is $4,851 — a difference of $456 per month.

As a National Board Certified Teacher with a Masters degree, I would earn a monthly salary of $5,307; as a principal, my monthly salary is $4,851 — a difference of $456 per month.

Annual salary comparisons are deceptive because principals work 12 months. We lose out on any additional summer earnings — no summer program earnings, no stipends for training, no extra seasonal job, nothing extra. Unlike teachers who have the opportunity to work during the summer to earn additional income, principals do not have this option. My only option to supplement my income is to work a second job.

If I were paid the teacher monthly salary based on my credentials and years of service for 12 months, I would earn a long overdue salary increase. Just to see that math: $5,307/month x 12 = $63,684. Sign me up! This would be an annual raise for me of over $5,000.

Yes, somebody please level the playing field and restore balance to the principal salary schedule. Considering the base pay “bonus” percentages of the current principal schedule is celebrating its 18th birthday, addressing this issue is long overdue.

Editor’s Note:  Here is a link to EdNC’s research on the principal salary schedule.

Jack Davern

Jack Davern is the principal at Elon Elementary School.