Why BEST NC is Not “Best” for NC

A recent WRAL / Capitol Broadcasting Company opinion piece that appeared on Sept. 19th on WRAL.com attested that the inflated rhetoric surrounding the North Carolina General Assembly’s so-called support of public education was nothing more than partisan hot air.

“Editorial: N.C. school budget’s defects emerge as students settle in” highlights two specifically glaring shortcomings to come out of the legislative sessions of the past summer: class size restrictions which have been rather publicized of late and the new principal pay plan (http://www.wral.com/editorial-reality-of-n-c-school-budget-s-defects-emerge-as-students-settle-in/16957746/).

That new principal pay plan has just come into light and has received some rather harsh but deserved criticism. Why? Because it was poorly planned and seems to have been implemented behind closed doors without thorough vetting and an understanding of what works in schools.

On Sept. 8th, Lindsay Wagner reported on a State Board of Education meeting that discussed the initial feedback from principals about the new pay plan (https://www.ncforum.org/new-principal-pay-plan-could-result-in-steep-salary-reductions-for-veteran-principals/). In it she quoted one of the board members who seemed rather perplexed as to who designed the new plan.

Board member Tricia Willoughby repeatedly questioned who designed the principal pay plan.

“When I get the phone call from our local superintendent about this, or from some of my friends who are principals, I want to know specifically who designed this [principal pay plan] and who I can tell them to call,” said Willoughby. “I want to know who designed it, and we may not get that answer today, but I’d like an email in the next day or two [explaining] to whom I refer these questions.”

If the State Board doesn’t know who designed the pay plan, then one of two things has happened – either there has been an extreme case of amnesia or the plan was crafted behind closed doors on West Jones Street without the input of the State Board, DPI, or other educational leaders, especially those who talk closely local superintendents and principals.

It turns out that it was the latter with the help of a supposedly “non-profit,” “non-partisan” group called BESTNC.

BESTNC stands for Business for Educational Success and Transformation North Carolina. Their legal name is North Carolina Business Leaders for Education. They tout a very impressive list of business leaders among their ranks, but their name is in direct contradiction to what they have practiced in helping shape policy like the principal pay plan.

The WRAL op-ed actually calls them out on their role in the plan.

One of the top priorities of BEST NC, a coalition of business leaders focused on improving education, was bettering public school principal pay – which ranks among the lowest in the nation. Following the session, the group praised legislators for “what may be the most innovative and student-focused pay structure” in the nation.

However last week the state Board of Education was told that the new pay plan may end up discouraging good principals from working at the schools that need the most help and could force the most experienced principals to opt for retirement.

While building in pay incentives for increased performance of students, the pay structure eliminated the additional money principals received for advanced degrees and years of experience (longevity). In some scenarios, some experienced principals would see their pay drop $20,000.

That link in the story referencing the praise heaped upon legislators by BESTNC leads readers to July 17, 2017 op-ed by Julie Kowal (VP for BESTNC) on BESTNC’s website – http://best-nc.org/raising-and-transforming-principal-pay-north-carolina-leading-the-nation/. It is worth the read, but particularly enlightening is:

State investments in school leaders have been one of BEST NC’s top priorities since our founding. As business leaders, our members know the value of great leadership. We believe principals are the superheroes of our public schools. They are responsible for establishing and maintaining a positive school culture focused on student success; they lead teams averaging 50 adults – recruiting, developing and retaining outstanding teachers and staff; they manage an operating budget averaging $5M, and they serve as the glue between the school and its surrounding community…

That is why BEST NC’s top legislative goal for this year was to build on the 2016 recommendation by the Legislative Study Committee on School-Based Administrator’s Pay “to make meaningful, sustained and strategic investments in school leader compensation.”

The legislature followed through. This year’s budget completely restructures the salary schedule for principals in what may be the most innovative and student-focused pay structure in the country. The 2017-18 budget also invests more than $40 million in principal pay raises over the next two years.

BESTNC was founded in 2014. If principal pay has been a priority since its founding, then this principal pay plan has been in the works for years and the amount of publicity that the process has received has been rather miniscule.

That is purposeful. And it’s not what is “best” for NC’s schools.

For public school advocates, BESTNC is not unfamiliar. There was a rather interesting op-ed written by BESTNC President Brenda Berg in 2015 called “The real war on education in North Carolina,” a rebuttal to a piece written by a former teacher and public school advocate (https://www.ednc.org/2015/08/12/the-real-war-on-education-in-north-carolina/). What that article did not do well was realistically portray the state of education. Many of the statistics used were incorrect and the conclusions derived were easily debunked.

But what Berg’s article did do well in 2015 was to show that there was a “war” and how out of touch many in the reform movement are when examining the classroom. That deliberate disconnect is still evident with the principal pay plan of 2017.

While BESTNC seemed to praise its own good works at the annual America Succeeds EduVenture convention last week, it had to quickly defend itself for actions that no one really knew happened because instead of being that non-profit and non-partisan group they showed themselves to be a rather well-funded lobbying group – for businesses.

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Again, it’s not what is “best” for NC’s schools.

And again, it is all deliberate.

Consider that most, if not all, of the “reforms” instituted within the last four years in NC have come from politicians and business leaders, it only makes sense that teachers and principals not only come to the defense of public education but loudly question the powers that be.

Yet, those same teachers and administrators are having to fulfill their teaching and leadership duties in schools that receive less resources and less support from a harshly partisan legislation that supports a puppet state superintendent, gerrymanders districts, discriminates against portions of the population (Voter ID and HB2), and works behind closed doors with lobbying groups like BESTNC to craft dangerous reforms.

It shows that what is really BEST in NC are the people working in public schools like teachers, students, volunteers, teacher assistants, students, and parents – not those who try and wear the mantle of “BEST”.

Maybe before BESTNC starts another initiative that seemingly is clothed with good intentions but in reality benefits a few, it should look closely at that business / education nonparallel.

Maybe BESTNC should consider running the businesses they represent under the same construct that schools are forced to work under by the same NCGA that BESTNC has surreptitiously worked with, but as a small warning, they should:

  • Be prepared to open up every book and have everything audited.
  • Be prepared to publicize all of the salaries of the people who work for you.
  • Be prepared to allow every stockholder to have equal power on how your run your business even if they own just one share.
  • Be prepared to abide by protocols and procedures established by people outside of the business.
  • Be prepared to not get to choose your raw materials.
  • Be prepared to have everything open to the press.
  • Be prepared to not get to advertise or market yourself.
  • Even though you are supposedly “fully” funded, be prepared to raise funds because you are not really fully funded.
  • Be prepared to have your work hours, schedule, and calendar dictated by those who do not even work for your business.
  • Be prepared to have to communicate with all of your clients’ parents and guardians.
  • And finally be prepared to not MAKE A MONETARY PROFIT. Why? Because you are not a business. You are a public service.

Until BESTNC realizes that running education like a business does not work, all of their initiatives will have the same effect as their principal pay plan.

That is why they are not “best” for NC.

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