We Pay Principals the Wrong Way in NC

The Charlotte Observer



Special to the Observer

As a business leader, I know the value of great leadership on my executive teams, and in our public schools. That’s why a top priority for me as a member of BEST NC has been to encourage substantial and sustained investments in principal compensation. Investing in our principals is a fundamental principle of investing in our schools and our children. 

As the legislature learned in its joint study of principal pay last year, North Carolina’s school leaders are currently among the lowest paid in the country and a distant last place in the Southeast. As important, our state’s current pay structure is based on an outdated combination of experience and degrees with little consideration of achievement or demand for the job. Clearly, this must change.

Recently, I have been encouraged to see strong proposals to raise principal pay in both Gov. Roy Cooper’s and the state Senate’s budget proposals. Both have included substantial investments that would begin to close the gap and provide our school executives a regionally competitive wage.

As important, the Senate’s budget proposal modernizes the state’s pay structure for principals to encourage them to serve in the school where they will be most successful and achieve strong results. This strategy takes the best lessons from the private sector, paying executives based on their level of responsibility and the difficulty of their job, while also rewarding them for delivering results.

To see the impact that the Senate’s proposal would have on school leaders, consider an elementary school in rural North Carolina, where more than 90 percent of students come from low-income backgrounds. When a new principal took the helm in 2013, only 58 percent of students were meeting basic grade level standards. By 2016, 71 percent of the school’s students were meeting grade level standards. This is but one example of the tremendous impact that a strong principal can have on outcomes.

Yet, this principal’s salary, including state and local resources, was less than $58,000 last year. Under the proposal included in the Senate’s budget, that principal could earn nearly $78,000 next year, plus a bonus of up to $15,000.

The proposed investment in and transformation of principal compensation in North Carolina is a critical first step to support outstanding leadership in our public schools. Even with this increase, surrounding states are still paying significantly more competitive salaries. North Carolina must still do more to recruit and retain the best principals in the region and I encourage the legislature to consider a multi-year commitment to compete.

Executive leadership is essential for any organization to succeed, which is why principals must be a top priority in our education agenda. There may be no more important and leverageable investment we can make to positively transform education for every student in North Carolina.

Replogle is CEO of Seventh Generation and a board member of Best NC, a non-profit coalition of business leaders focused on education policy