Proposed pay hikes welcomed, but ‘respect’ is needed

Published 10:48 am Tuesday, May 3, 2016

WINTON – Gov. Pat McCrory unveiled his proposed budget for 2016-17 last week, with strengthening education listed as a key component.

Included in the Governor’s proposal is an increase in average teacher pay to $50,000 annually. He also proposes an average 3.5 percent bonus for teachers and principals with a greater share going to veteran teachers. This will equate to a $5,000 bonus for veteran teachers with more than 24 years of service.

Hertford County Schools Superintendent Dr. William T. Wright Jr. said that while the pay hikes are an important step forward, it is not sufficient.

“The teacher and principal raises in the governor’s budget, we’re certainly in favor of,” Wright said, “but to really make a difference to ‘improve education,’ we need to restore respect for our teachers.”

Wright said the state used to demonstrate respect for teachers with annual raises, praise for the important work teachers accomplished, continual support, and adequate funding for classrooms and schools.

“That is no longer the case,” said Wright. “There are gross disparities between districts.”

Wright also indicated that the state government demonstrates not only disrespect for teachers, but for the very concept of public education.

The result of the criticism and disrespect, Wright said, is that teachers are leaving North Carolina to states where the importance of education is demonstrated by state leaders in government.

Even after the governor’s raises,” Wright said, “teacher pay will still rank in the bottom half of the nation.”

He said North Carolina now ranks 46th in the nation in teacher pay, and even if the governor’s proposals are adopted by the General Assembly, would probably only go up one or two percentage points.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Wright said, “we’re very appreciative that salaries might go up.”

Before taking the superintendent position in Hertford County late last year, Wright served as a superintendent in the South Carolina public school system.

He said North Carolina has historically lost good teachers to Virginia, but in recent years good teachers have been leaving this state for South Carolina because they get more respect there.

According to an April 22 press release from the governor’s office, the proposed budget would also, in addition to the hike in average salaries and the 3.5 percent bonus plan, strengthen education by:

Establishes a scholarship program by investing $2 million to attract 300 new, highly qualified math and science teachers to earn degrees and teach math and science in the state’s public schools.

Builds on a commitment to position North Carolina as one of the first states in the nation to connect all classrooms to robust Wi-Fi by 2018, empowering schools to trade textbooks for tablets.

Expands funding by nearly $6 million to provide scholarships for an additional 300 special needs students.

Provides support services to ensure community college students graduate with a credential or degree.

Establishes a new competitive merit scholarship program for students pursuing science, math and health degrees at our universities to help fill the shortage of skilled workers in these fields.

The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald contacted the public school superintendents in Bertie, Gates and Northampton counties as well as Hertford County. Dr. Wright was the only local superintendent to return our call.