September 27, 2012
The pay system for Guilford County Schools
principals is a mess, and a well-meaning incentive program to try to get principals to stay put at schools for at least five years may make it worse.
Members of the Guilford County Board of Education, teachers, the public and some principals alike have complained about the way principals are allocated, paid and treated in the school system.
Among the complaints regularly heard are that principals don't stay at schools long enough to get full control of them, or to improve them as much as needed; that principal pay is unfair, rewarding some principals magnificently while shafting others with as much experience or training.
Others are that principals brought in by former Guilford County School Superintendent Terry Grier were given sweetheart deals; and that, when Guilford County Schools
gets good principals, they them into central office management, where they stop having direct effects on students.
The wandering-principal syndrome in Guilford County was aggravated under Grier, who seemed to use frequent principal moves as a tactic to prevent principals from building up a power base of supportive teachers and parents who could question central office policy.
Current School Superintendent Mo Green proposes paying principals more to stay at schools at least five years. That might mitigate the first problem, that principals don't stay at schools long enough, but might also aggravate the disparities in pay between principals.
The range of principal pay in the school system is wide. They range from $58,300 for Pandora Bell, the principal of the small Twilight High School on Pisgah Church Road in Greensboro, which is an evening school designed to bring dropouts back into the system to finish the credits they need, to $138,600 for Noah Rogers, the principal of Smith High School.
A study of high school principal salaries presented at the Saturday, Sept. 22 school board retreat showed that, of schools responding to the survey, the average high school principal salary in the southeast United States ranged from $87,000 to $101,000. The average high school principal salary in school systems with 25,000 or more students (Guilford County Schools
has about 72,000) ranged from $96,000 to $118,000 nationwide.
Rogers, the highest-paid Guilford County Schools
principal and the 14th highest-paid of 10,000 Guilford County Schools
employees, has improved test scores at Smith. But The Rhino Times ran a story in September 2011 detailing Rogers' record, which includes legitimate bachelor's and master's degrees but also claims a 2003 Ph.D. in education administration (magna cum laude) from Madison University in Gulfport, Mississippi, which has been described as a substandard, unaccredited college or "diploma mill" by officials in five states, as well as in news articles.
Rogers is still listed as "Dr. Noah V. Rogers" on the Smith website.
Green has proposed giving principals bonuses totaling 5 percent of their annual salaries if they stay at a school for five years. The program could cost up to $618,759 in a one-year period once principals are fully vested in the program.
Once a principal has turned around a low-performing school, or otherwise been identified as a star principal in Guilford County Schools
, the school system has had to offer them a better school quickly to keep them. That necessity was caused largely by the pressure created by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which forced school systems to track and improve state test scores of numerous subgroups of students, including students of different races, family incomes, special-needs students and students whose native language is not English, a trick it took good principals to pull off.
That pressure was recently lessened when the federal government granted North Carolina a waiver from the provisions of No Child Left Behind. School systems will still have to track the performance of each subgroup, but a school won't face sanctions if one subgroup (say black males, who make up roughly 20 percent of Guilford County Schools
students), doesn't meet test targets.
Now North Carolina can go back to pretending that all categories of students are being equally prepared for life by North Carolina school systems.
The problem of principals being moved up the organizational food chain quickly, and the improvements they've accomplished at schools unraveling after they leave, hasn't gone away, however.
ĺPart of it is just the free market. Other school systems will hire away good principals in a heartbeat. Also, the glut of administrative positions in the central offices of Guilford County Schools
and other large school systems gives principals many paths for upward career movement and higher pay.
One recent example is Patrice Faison, who was moved from The Academy at Smith to then-troubled Oak Hill Elementary School in April 2010. Faison is credited with great improvements at Oak Hill, which was the worst-performing Guilford County public school, but after Faison's tenure, is no longer listed as low performing by the state of North Carolina.
The result was predictable. Green in June 2012 appointed Faison principal of Page High School, a plum position, to keep her. Faison, who made $73,000 at Oak Hill, is paid $133,000 at Page, a $60,000 raise. Not at bad bump in pay if you can get it.
One hopes that the improvements made at Oak Hill by Faison, her teachers and numerous volunteers will last, but precedents at other schools that have quickly lost high-quality principals are not promising.
Under Green's plan, principals would earn 1 percent of their salary per year, and would be vested in the program after five years, when they could cash out a one-time bonus of 5 percent of their salaries.
Principals would not get money for time already spent in their jobs. That is, principals who had been running a school for two years this school year, when the program would start, could cash out during the 2014-2015 school year, but for only 3 percent of their salaries. A principal who had already been at a school for five years could cash out this year – but only with a 1 percent bonus.
In addition to bonuses for staying at a school for five years, Guilford County Schools
administrators provided three other possible options to modify principal pay: increased local supplements from Guilford County tax money, a supplement based on school size, and performance-based supplements based on "value-added data" – the state test scores of students at each school.
School board member Ed Price said the bonuses – "lottery money," as he called it – would increase the average tenure of a Guilford County Schools
principal by only two years – so he couldn't see what the hollering was about. He said, "What we're saying is they're going to move every five years instead of every three years."
Green responded that the bonus pay was one experiment out of many considered – and was an experiment. He said, "I'm not offering you a guarantee that this will work."...continued on page 2