“We’re excited to be here to represent our colleagues and to tell you some ideas that we have that can support the great work that you guys did in 2018 to increase principal pay around the state,” said Dr. John Lassiter, principal of Hertford Grammar School, to lawmakers this week on the House Select Committee on Education Reform.

Lassiter and a Wells Fargo coalition of Principals of the Year are asking lawmakers to continue increasing compensation for school principals

“We’re here today because we recognize that there’s a sense of urgency to support North Carolina schools,” said Lassiter. “School leadership is one of the top two leading factors impacting overall school success. And we recognize that education is at a crossroads, and they want to promote the importance of having a good school leader in each school year. Slowly, school leaders are leaving the profession, and we think that there are small tweaks to the principal compensation plan that can support keeping great school leaders in the schools. Specifically, in the role of a principal.” 

“We recognize that in 2016 there was a joint legislative committee that looked at principle pay. At that time, North Carolina was ranked near the bottom, I think it was 50, and this committee worked hard to make sure their principal compensation was addressed in a meaningful way,” said Dr. Lassiter.

“This committee worked hard to make sure their principal compensation was addressed in a meaningful way,” said Lassiter. 

Ashley Faulkenberry, of Craven County Schools, served 13 years as the principal of Trent Park Elementary School; she is also the 2023 Southeast Regional Principal of the Year. Lassiter and Faulkenberry presented the addition of complexity factors to the current compensation plan that examine the challenges of a principal’s job in a unique way.  

Two factors impact principal pay in the state. The first factor is the average daily membership of schools and how many students attend a school; the second is performance-based pay.

“To my knowledge principals are the only category of employee that’s paid by the taxpayer that are judged on their performance and move across from base pay to meeting growth to exceeding growth based on student achievement,” said Lassiter. “Now, we’re not here today to suggest that that go away. We think the principals, as the research says, do impact student achievement.”

Lassiter and Faulkenberry presented solutions to address pay gaps that are often outside the principal’s control. 

“So, the current principal compensation plan was a huge step in the right direction,” said Lassiter.”We recognize the effort and the investment that you guys made, the General Assembly made in 2018.”

Lassiter and Faulkenberry also addressed what they considered to be three unintended consequences of the new legislation.  

“The first one is we want to offset the big swings in pay,” said Lassiter. “That may be based on factors that do stretch beyond the principals’ control. The second one is the current compensation plan does not consider the complexity of the schools that principals serve around the state. For example, a school of 400 students in Perquimans, this county might look very different than a school of 400 students in Wake County or at a county in the western part of the state. We want to start looking at the complexities of different schools around the state. The third, and I think a key issue, is the current plan does de-incentivize outstanding assistant principals from moving into the profession as a principal and to lead their own school and then staying in the field if they’re a successful principal.”

The proposal attempts to address the challenges in these three areas. First they aim to reduce swings in salary.  Secondly, the proposal calls for a recognition that not all schools are created equal, and an examination of the average daily membership and the complexities that impact each school. Lastly, it promotes principal retention. Principals often leave a school to take a central office position, said Lassiter, adding that he’d once taken over for a principal who’d done just that. To combat this, the authors propose a retention supplement to combat this. 

“So first, we want to establish a complexity model that considers more than just school size or the average daily membership mentioned before,” added Faulkenberry. “We want to create a plan that links all school employees to one scalloped salary scale while ensuring that the principal is the highest-paid employee in the building; we want to reduce the performance swings in our pay so that it may stabilize salaries while maintaining the structure currently in place; and, finally, we want to propose adding a system of retention based on years as a school principal […].” 

For Lassiter, it’s important to acknowledge the critical role school principals plays in public education.

“We’re not here asking for a significant pay increase,” said Lassiter. “We’re asking to redeploy some of the resources so that there’s more stability and pay. Again, we do not want to move forward without recognizing the voice of the principals that were part of the survey and honoring the work that they do for the students of North Carolina.”

“When listening to the voices of our colleagues here, only 7% agree or strongly agree that the current pay plan encourages high-performing principals to transition to low-performing schools,” said Faulkenberry. 

The proposed plan includes five benefits: consider factors beyond school size; use a retention supplement designed to stabilize school leadership and keep principals in the profession; third, build a common thread linking principal compensation to teacher and assistant pay; fourth, reduce dramatic swings in pay while providing incentives to meet and exceed student growth expectations; and, lastly, the plan enjoys a high level of support from professionals in the field. 

Lassiter and Faulkenberry’s request before the committee was to modify the principal pay plan in 2024 to enhance recruitment, increase stability, add school complexity factors and recognize experience leadership; emphasizing that it has never been more important to keep outstanding principals in their schools.