Pay hike vs. tenure

Published 8:54 am Tuesday, June 3, 2014

RALEIGH – North Carolina teachers have their wish granted for a significant pay raise.

However, that extra income, to those willing to accept the state’s offer, comes with a trade-off.

On Wednesday, the Republican led North Carolina Senate rolled out a new pay plan for public school teachers. The $468 million increase, the largest in state history, means an average pay hike of 11.2 percent annually. It boosts North Carolina from 47th in overall teacher pay to the middle of current national rankings, and from 9th to 3rd in the Southeast, propelling the state ahead of Virginia, Tennessee and South Carolina, according to information released from the office of Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham).

However, there is a catch and it comes with safeguarding teacher tenure – career status earned by teachers who teach in a local school system for five consecutive years.  After five years, a teacher is granted career status (tenure) and afforded due process rights. Teachers have the option of accepting the salary hike or refusing it, meaning they can maintain their tenure as well as remaining on the state’s current pay schedule.

Beginning teachers who are in their first three years of service would see pay increases of around seven percent, then bigger jumps would come for those who have more years of experience.

Among the 37 current pay steps, 18 would get boosts beyond the proposed 11.2 percent average — as high as 20 percent for teachers in year eight of their careers, 18.5 percent in year seven, and 18.1 percent in year nine, according to the Carolina Journal. Average teacher pay would jump from the current $45,938 to $51,198 if the plan were adopted.

Beginning teachers who are in their first three years of service would see pay increases of around seven percent.

“There’s no greater investment we can make than in preparing our children for the future, and that’s why Senate Republicans have focused on improving student outcomes since day one,” said Berger in a press release. “We’ve already taken steps to reform education and improve early career and performance pay for teachers. Investing nearly half a billion dollars in pay raises will make North Carolina a regional leader and encourage the best and brightest teachers to make a long-term commitment to their profession, our students and our state.”

The Senate’s plan also provides an additional $39 million for pay raises for other public school employees. It matches the governor’s proposal to provide principals and other school administrators with an average two percent pay increase. Non-instructional public school employees would receive a $500 flat raise.

The proposal also fulfills the commitment state leaders made earlier this year to extend supplemental pay for teachers with Master’s degrees to those who have completed at least one course in a graduate program as of July 1, 2013. And it expands opportunities for local school systems to recognize and reward top performers by allocating funds for up to 35 percent of teachers to receive pay for excellence increases.

While Senate Republicans pledged to pay for the raises with recurring revenue sources and without a tax hike, there is a flip side. In the Senate’s proposed $21.2 billion state budget, funds for teaching assistants will be cut by just over $230 million beginning July 1. The budget will only fund teaching assistants for kindergarten and first-grade classes only.

As expected, the Senate’s plan drew mixed reviews.

“Senator Berger is once again treating teachers with disregard and disrespect,” said North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller. “Teachers should not have to trade in their professional status in order to make a decent living educating North Carolina children. Quit playing games with our children’s teachers.”

In order to attract and retain quality educators, officials with the North Carolina School Board Association (NCSBA) said the state must provide competitive compensation.

“We are encouraged at the recognition of the NC Senate that teacher compensation needs to be addressed; however, we have significant concerns about how the cuts to derive the revenue to pay for the salary increases will affect the capacity of school boards to provide the constitutionally mandated opportunity for a sound basic education,” said Leanne Winner, the NCSBA’s Director of Governmental Relations.

These cuts, the NCSBA said, would include eliminating 7,400 teacher assistant positions in the early grades and reducing the number of teaching positions in second and third grades.  These cuts, if approved, would occur while school districts are implementing NC Read to Achieve, which requires every third grader to read at grade level before moving to fourth grade.  Additionally, other critical services, like school nurses and transportation, are being reduced.

The office of North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory also responded, as reported in the Carolina Journal.

“We recognize and share the Senate’s goal to improve education and help teachers. However, the McCrory administration has a different and broader approach that promotes student achievement and rewards teachers,” said Josh Ellis who serves as McCrory’s communications director.

“The comprehensive Career Pathways for Teachers plan, which is sustainable, fiscally responsible, and provides local flexibility, was developed through a process working with and supported by superintendents, teachers, and business leaders across the state,” Ellis said.

The Carolina Journal also quoted Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, who referenced the 11-percent average salary hike by saying it, “actually brings us to where we belong in the year 2014. That would be a very welcome investment in public education right now.”

However, he said, “it’s a travesty that they would attach it to career status rights, due process protections for educators.” The state should grant unencumbered raises to demonstrate respect for teachers as professionals instead of using them as “political pawns in an election year.”

The state lost the tenure battle in court and is trying “to circumvent the judge’s order, and actually force teachers to accept contracts or to continue to teach without due process rights. That’s probably the biggest frustration I have with it,” Ellis said.

Dr. Barry Williams, Superintendent of Gates County Schools, shared information on Friday regarding a conference call held Thursday by the Executive Board of the North Carolina Association of School Administrators (NCACA). Their response to the Senate’s plan cited what they see as “devastating cuts that will harm the learning experience for public school students across the state.”

K-12 leaders also say the cuts could lead to the loss of 10,000 or more school jobs and will negatively impact local county budgets and taxpayers.

“Adequate compensation to attract and retain the best and brightest teachers for North Carolina classrooms is the top priority of school administrators, but the Senate’s proposal for funding teacher pay increases by taking away other resources, programs and personnel our students need and deserve is extremely disappointing,” said Katherine Joyce,  NCASA Executive Director. “Our hope is that the Senate ultimately will work with the House and the Governor on a final budget package that reflects a more reasonable approach to increasing teacher compensation, such as the plan outlined a few weeks ago by Governor McCrory.”

The NCASA say proposed cuts to teacher assistants and teachers in Grades 2 and 3 hinder progress on the important goal of ensuring all third graders are reading proficient, as called for under recent law changes. Students also will have fewer school nurses, longer bus routes due to cuts in bus driver support, and inadequate funding of $15 each for textbooks and related resources.

They add that students will also lose needed personnel support of up to 10,000 or more individuals across the state, including the following job losses that are based on preliminary estimates of the budget’s impact: 7,400 teacher assistants, 1,000 transportation employees, and 1,000 central office employees, as well as precluding the hiring of 788 additional early-grade teachers as class sizes increase in Grades 2 and 3.

Dr. Mark Edwards, the President-Elect of the N.C. School Superintendents’ Association, issued the following call to action:

“Superintendents are ready to roll up our sleeves and work with the Governor, the House and the Senate to develop a much-needed plan to improve teacher compensation without cutting into the personnel and other resources that our students across the state need,” said Edwards, Superintendent of the Mooresville Graded Schools. “We invite state leaders to join us in a work session in the next few weeks to come up with the right approach to ensure we can continue to move our schools and our students to the next level.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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