Durham County

State bonus payments to principals could harm struggling schools. See why.

Durham Public Schools Superintendent Bert L’Homme
Durham Public Schools Superintendent Bert L’Homme The News & Observer

Under a new state mandate, school size and student performance will weigh heavily on how much money principals and assistant principals make in North Carolina.

The performance part worries some Durham Public Schools leaders who think it could make schools where children struggle the most academically less attractive to top principals.

Principals at schools that meet or exceed expected growth can earn several thousand dollars in bonuses each year.

“I’m not going to tell you that it may happen,” DPS Superintendent Bert L’Homme said during a school board work session Thursday. “We are going to have trouble recruiting top-of-the-line principals to go to low-performing schools.”

L’Homme’s statement came in response to a question by DPS Board of Education Chairman Mike Lee, who asked whether the new rules that go into effect this school year would hurt the district’s ability to recruit and retain principals at schools that routinely do not meet or exceed expected growth on state end-of-course and end-of-grade tests.

“You’ve gone to the heart of what’s happening,” L’Homme said. “A school that has 100 percent free-and-reduced lunch and a transient population and it’s sitting at a crossroads and the population is changing year to year, for them to meet growth or to exceed growth is difficult.”

At issue is a series of bonuses that will be handed out to principals whose students meet or exceed growth on state test.

Under one available bonus, a principal whose students’ growth percentage is in the state’s top 5 percent is eligible for a $5,000 bonus.

And principals who turn around a school with a state grade of “D” or “F” could see their salaries increase by $25,000 to $30,000.

The bonuses and salary increases for principals across North Carolina will be made possible due to a General Assembly appropriation of $35.4 million to overhaul the state salary structure for school leaders.

Under the new salary structure, average principal pay will move from slightly under $64,000 a year to about $70,000 a year as part of the state’s strategy to improve its ranking in the Southeast and the nation.

Assistant principals will also see a salary increase.

But principals won’t know how much they will earn until test scores are released next month and enrollment has been established using the higher of the September and October enrollment numbers.

It is estimated that the enrollment numbers will be finalized in late November.

“A lot of this is still dependent on data that we don’t have,” said Kimberly Hager, the school district’s interim human director of human resources.

Aaron Beaulieu, the interim deputy superintendent of operational services, said the state’s move to a performance-based pay model will present challenges.

“It’s going to make it very challenging, not only here but in a number of districts, as to where you place people, what jobs people will take, what they’re willing to try to accomplish when their salary can range $13,000 just in the variation between meet and exceed (growth),” Beaulieu said.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645