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State superintendent announces plan to protect more than 350 principals’ pay

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  • Under @CTruittNCDPI's proposal, principals won't lose pay based on school performance during the pandemic-impacted 2021-22 school year. #nced
  • “Their paychecks certainly shouldn’t be dictated by the uncertainty they absorbed and yet heroically managed through the 2021-22 school year," @CTruittNCDPI said.

Principals whose salaries are scheduled to decrease in January under a provision in the most recent state budget would get a hold harmless under a plan proffered by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt.

Truitt will propose to the State Board of Education on Sept. 1 that it use federal relief funding to hold principals harmless if their schools did not meet or exceed growth during the 2021-22 school year, given the external challenges schools faced during that year because of COVID-19. 

“We are thrilled that we can hold our principals harmless given the incredibly challenging and extenuating circumstances that the pandemic brought into our schools,” Truitt said in a Department of Public Instruction release. “Their paychecks certainly shouldn’t be dictated by the uncertainty they absorbed and yet heroically managed through the 2021-22 school year.”

Principal pay became a subject of debate earlier this month when principals became aware that the General Assembly’s formula for calculating their salaries changed in the short session budget.

Principals receive separate pay bumps if their schools meet growth and exceed growth. Previously, the formula considered the best two of the previous three years. The short session budget, however, introduced a change that means growth would be determined based off the 2021-22 school year.

In an e-mail to the General Assembly sent Aug. 4, the past five state principals of the year said many principals whose schools fell from exceeding to meeting growth, or from meeting to not meeting growth, would take a salary hit for circumstances beyond their control — namely, the pandemic.

According to the growth data from last school year, which DPI released to districts last week, about 360 principals, or roughly 15 percent of the state’s principals, led schools which dropped from either exceeding growth or meeting growth. These principals’ salaries are scheduled to decrease between $7,200 and $18,000 over 12 months starting Jan. 1.

After sending the Aug. 4 e-mail, the principals continued to meet – including with Truitt. The principals drafted a letter to the General Assembly, which Truitt hand delivered to Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger last week. 

However, Truitt’s principals advisor, Tabari Wallace, said that it became apparent the General Assembly could not act in time even if it were persuaded. The General Assembly is not expected to reconvene to consider legislation until December. 

Wallace said that’s when Truitt began contemplating what she could do.

“She put herself in the shoes of principals,” Wallace said.

Wallace, the 2019 state principal of the year, said watching Truitt do something for principals was heart-warming.

“She took care of the people who take care of everybody else,” he said.

Truitt’s proposal would use federal ESSER III funding to avoid decreasing pay. Truitt said student performance, on which the growth scores are based, were impacted by COVID-19 and reducing principal pay for external challenges could negatively impact districts’ ability to retain school leaders.

“Principals were given a monumental load during the pandemic, as they were tasked with leading our schools in the midst of ever-changing circumstances that included students and teachers shuffling in and out of quarantine while classrooms alternated between virtual and in-person,” Truitt said.

The State Board meets for a planning session on Aug. 30-31 and will hold its regular monthly meeting on Sept. 1, when it is expected to address this proposal.

“Principals throughout our state successfully led their schools to higher growth performance before the COVID shutdown took students out of our schools,” 2022 Principal of the Year Patrick Greene said in the statement. “I’m relieved to know that some of the principals who would have been impacted by this change will soon have clarity and certainty. On behalf of all of the principals, I would like to thank Superintendent Truitt for her attention to this issue and for this solution.”

This article was updated on Aug. 25 at 7:26 a.m. to include quotes and information from an interview with Tabari Wallace.

Rupen Fofaria

Rupen Fofaria was the equity and learning differences reporter for EducationNC from 2018 through October 2023.