Some 360 principals in North Carolina would be shielded from potential pay cuts under a proposal from state Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt to use federal aid funds to blunt a change in the salary formula. The principals, who represent roughly 15% of the state's principalship, would see pay cuts ranging from $7,200 to $18,000 over the course of a year from the new formula, which is partly performance-based.
The cuts are set to begin in January 2023, after a modification in the 2022 state budget that calculates the performance portion of pay based on the 2021-22 school year — a year when many schools saw a decline in student performance due to COVID-19 building closures. Prior to the new formula being included in the budget, performance-based pay was calculated based on a three-year history of school-growth performance rather than a single year of school performance data.
The change "tied salaries to school performance during a year when schools continued to face significant disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic," said the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction in a news release. The school board is to consider the proposal in a Sept. 1 meeting.
Federal aid funds from the American Rescue Plan and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act have been used to bolster teacher salaries through stipends and other incentives as a teacher recruitment and retention strategy across the nation. Similarly, using dollars from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund to protect principal pay from state budget changes is seen as a principal retention strategy.
The hold harmless policy will help "to ensure that they [principals] are retained by their school district," said the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, and will "provide stability to principals."
Historically, tying performance to pay has been controversial in education. That's because "there are so many factors that can create perverse incentives or inaccurate correlations of principal or teacher performance," said Jess Gartner, founder and CEO of Allovue, a firm that specializes in financial solutions and services for school districts.
Gartner added that using federal funds to protect principal pay where this is already in place, however, is a good use of the dollars provided there is a plan for fiscal year 2025 and later, when those funds dry up.
The proposal comes after a nationally representative survey by the National Association of Secondary School Principals showed half of school leaders are considering leaving the profession or retiring early due to high stress levels. The same report suggested educator shortages are adding to principals' stress levels.
Researchers have previously warned shortages and high levels of stress are persisting in all levels of the education sector — from nurses to teachers and bus drivers.
Recent data released by the Department of Labor show slower hiring rates in state and local education in July 2022 over the same time last year.