The path to a new formula for paying school-based administrators is proving to be hard to find.

At its first meeting in October, the Joint Legislative Study Committee on School-Based Administrator Pay reviewed a proposal to eliminate the current complicated salary schedule for school principals and the insufficient salary schedule for assistant principals in favor of a new system that would pay principals a base salary with a structure for locally chosen bonuses.

The committee’s second meeting last week gave legislators a chance to hear from subject-matter experts within and outside of North Carolina. Representatives from the Southern Regional Educational Board, BEST NC, NC Principals and Assistant Principals Association, the state Board of Education and one expert from the University of Illinois all testified.

The message from each: Great principals equal great schools.

Walk into any high-performing, high-achieving school, said BEST NC President and CEO Brenda Berg, and “you will find one thing they have in common and that is they have a high-quality principal leading that school.”

Like any industry, North Carolina can’t expect to have great principals if it doesn’t have at least adequate compensation. The state’s principal pay ranks 50th in the nation.

“We’re low, low, low in principal pay and I believe we can sell this package,” said committee Co-Chair Sen. Jerry Tillman.

The current salary schedule is a complicated mix of years of experience and number of employees. And many assistant principals across the state are paid a teacher’s salary to prevent them having to take a cut in pay when moving from the classroom to the front office.

The recommendations to improve the salary schedule are as varied as the current salary schedule, and they include several combinations of base pay, experiential or role-base differentiation, and performance incentives and bonuses.

There was hesitation when it came to bonuses, however. Co-Chair Rep. Hugh Blackwell said, “We’re going to have think carefully about how we do performance bonuses.”

State Board of Education member A.L. Buddy Collins, a former Forsyth County School Board Member, said, “I’ve never seen a situation where a bonus would make a teacher work harder or a principal work harder.”

Andy Baxter from the Southern Regional Education Board began his comments to the committee urging caution for offering performance bonuses and incentives.

“This area of compensation has not been a road that many have traveled,” Baxter said. Where incentives have been implemented, “the jury’s still out if they’re working or not. There’s nothing wrong with that. At least they’re trying.”

The committee has more work to do. Rep. D. Craig Horn, who isn’t a member of this committee, but serves on several education-related House committees, said the changes to school-based administrator pay will not be easy.

“I don’t want anyone to go away from here thinking we are going to fix everything in one fell swoop,” Horn said.

Its next meeting date was subject to the timing of the special session for Hurricane Matthew relief and cleanup.

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