State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt announced a plan today which will be considered by the State Board of Education (SBE) next week, to address concerns of principals whose pay may have been reduced starting Jan. 1 because of an updated provision in the 2022 state budget. The change stated that principal pay would be based on just one year of school performance data, from the 2021-22 year, instead of three years of data. The change could result in substantial pay cuts to some of North Carolina’s best principals, as it tied salaries to school performance during a year when schools continued to face significant disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Truitt announced that the Department of Public Instruction plans to draw from the federal Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER) III fund to compensate North Carolina’s principals who would have otherwise been negatively affected by this policy change. In the last budget bill, the General Assembly provided an across-the-board 4 percent salary increase to principal pay effective July 1, 2022. The legislation also modified the calculation of the performance portion of the pay, and removed the three-year history of performance, replacing the criteria with the performance of only the 2021-22 school year.
This modification, that adjusts pay effective Jan. 1, 2023, positively impacted many principals, especially those who became principals within the last three years, but negatively impacted approximately 360 principals, roughly 15 percent, whose schools had a pre-pandemic history of high performance. These potential pay cuts range from $7,200 to $18,000 over 12 months. By using federal ESSER III funding, these principals will not receive a reduction in pay for the portion of the salary that is determined by the schools’ growth performance, holding them harmless from the impact of COVID-19 and helping to ensure that they are retained by their school district. The timing of this agency proposal is critical to provide stability to principals, recognizing that the N.C. General Assembly is out of normal session and are unable to consider options until they reconvene in December.
“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. “We are thrilled that we can hold our principals harmless given the incredibly challenging and extenuating circumstances that the pandemic brought into our schools. Their paychecks certainly shouldn’t be dictated by the uncertainty they absorbed and yet heroically managed through the 2021-22 school year.”
North Carolina’s 2022 Wells Fargo Principal of the Year, Patrick Greene, said he welcomed Truitt’s plan to support principals.
“Principals throughout our state successfully led their schools to higher growth performance before the COVID shutdown took students out of our schools,” Greene said. “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.”
ESSER III funding was provided by the federal government to support public schools and may be used to ensure the retention of principals who proved to be high performing. It is estimated that the 12-month cost to make whole those affected by this provision is $4.5 million.
The State Board of Education will consider the funding proposal Sept. 1 during its regular monthly meeting. Once approved by the board, the agency will develop an allotment policy and application for districts that would be disseminated later this year.
Truitt said the additional money is available because of the careful decisions the agency and board have made in using the ESSER funds.
“Our agency is fortunate to have funding that we can use,” she said. “We have been fiscally responsible with ESSER funding and made smart and strategic decisions when deciding what and where to spend. It’s because of those early decisions that we are able to bring forward a plan that ensures no principal’s pay is negatively affected as a result of a period of time when schools and students were doing their best, and principals were leading with resiliency and resolve to help their students and teachers recover from the pandemic.”