There’s only so much pie to slice

Published 5:06 pm Tuesday, November 23, 2021

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I totally understand the lobbying effort behind the push to increase the annual salaries of our classroom teachers. I realize they did not receive the raise they were promised three years ago, but that wasn’t the fault of those putting those numbers in place. That budget – approved in the State House and Senate – was vetoed by Governor Cooper.

So here we are in the late stages of 2021….finally with an approved budget, one that bears the Governor’s signature. And yet despite guaranteed more money in the pockets of all state employees, apparently it’s not enough for some. Perhaps they don’t understand the “pie” theory. You bake a pie knowing how many people will want a taste and you slice it up accordingly.

In other words, there’s only so much pie to go around.

I’m sure you’re thinking at this point about two things in the budget….an increase in the Rainy Day Fund and a tax cut. Some will say that money would have been better spent by giving teachers a bigger raise. So, I guess they want a larger piece of the pie….but what about everyone else who draws a paycheck from the State of North Carolina?

It’s funny that I haven’t heard a peep from the NC Highway Patrol, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, Parks and Recreation, Community Corrections, the Forest Service, Department of Justice, Military & Veterans Affairs, Soil & Water Conservation, the Division of Prisons….the list goes on and on…..lobbying for a bigger raise. According to, there are 177 state agencies, employing more than 81,000 people.

And for those who think it’s silly to have a Rainy Day Fund, all I can say is one word – hurricane. All it takes is one major storm to big a big dent in that fund. Kudos to those who think it’s very important to keep that amount of cash on hand in case of an emergency.

The budget’s naysayers – including the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) – were critical over the fact that ALL taxpayers across our state were in store for some financial relief. The new budget lowers the personal income tax rate from 5.25% to 3.99% over six years, increases the standard and per-child deductions, and eliminates taxes on military veterans’ pension income. A phase-out of the corporate income tax, currently at 2.5%, would start in 2025, reaching zero by the end of the decade.

I received a press release from the NCAE with the headline: Educators disappointed in bare minimum budget… legislators say let them eat cake! That press release stated: “North Carolinians were treated to an early Christmas present this year—a state budget for the first time in three years. The budget itself was more than four months late and was received by educators like a lump of coal. While it did include some pay increases and bonuses, educators called it the ‘bare minimum’.”

As the budget was being voted on in the state legislature, NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly sent a video message to the membership saying, “Our lawmakers chose to do the bare minimum. They chose to give $2 billion in new tax cuts over our children’s education. This was a missed opportunity,” and “considering what could have been done the bare minimum was not enough.”

The “bare minimum” is factually an average 5% pay raise for teachers over the biennium, an increase of minimum wage for non-certified personnel and community college staff to $15 an hour, and $2,800 in bonuses to most teachers using federal dollars.

I admire the work of our classroom teachers and school administrators and I’m elated they received raises and bonuses. At least they received something…..the majority of us here in the corporate world received nothing. Personally, I haven’t had a raise since 2005. We don’t even bake a “pie” much less receive a slice of one.

Meanwhile, budget negotiations this year resulted in an additional $125 million for education, $100 million of which is going to be used for teacher supplements for most districts. Many districts offer supplemental salaries to what the state provides for teachers, but districts without a large property tax base often can offer very little or nothing, meaning that richer districts are able to siphon off talent.

Public school districts here in the Roanoke-Chowan area will gain those teacher supplements as follows (dollar amounts are estimated):

Bertie County: $790,895

Gates County: $750,825

Hertford County: $993,662

Northampton County: $534,054

The state’s larger counties (Buncombe, Durham, Guilford, Mecklenburg, and Wake) are not included in the list of those receiving the supplemental funding.

All totaled, the net appropriation for the public instruction portion of the budget is more than $10.6 billion in the first year of the biennium and almost $11 billion in the second year.

Other K-12 or early childhood items of note in the new budget include the following:

Recurring funding for $1,000 annual supplement for school counselors;

Budget funds “to raise all levels of the principal salary schedule by 2.5%” in each year of the biennium;

Holds harmless districts so that they don’t lose funding if their student population drops under projected numbers;

Funds an additional 115 school psychologist positions. There are 115 traditional school districts in the state;

Raises funding cap for children with disabilities allotment from 12.75% to 13%;

Increases the reimbursement rate child care centers receive to serve children in NC Pre-K by 4% over the biennium;

Allocates $20 million in federal funds for grants for child care centers and NC Pre-K classrooms for start-up costs, quality improvements, and capital needs. The priority is for facilities in high-poverty districts and childcare deserts;

Gives Smart Start $10 million in additional funding in each year of the biennium;

Provides almost $2 million recurring in the second year of the biennium to bolster the classroom supply allotment;

Provides more than $70 million in additional funds in the first year, and more than $78 million in additional funds in the second year for the needs-based public school capital fund;

Creates a new “allocation” where each county will get $300,000 in the first year and $500,000 in the second year for repairs and renovations of education buildings;

Loosens financial-need restrictions on who can apply to the opportunity scholarship program, which gives state money to students to attend private schools;

Eliminates the controversial Innovative School District; and

Includes additional funds for children with disabilities and academically gifted children.

Perhaps someone needs to redefine the phrase: “bare minimum.”

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

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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