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New teacher pay proposal met with welcome, questions

 

ELIZABETH HEFFNER

Staff Writer

 

The proposal Governor Pat McCrory announced Monday to raise the base pay for early-career teachers was met with both approval and immediate questions about raises for educators with more experience.

Under McCrory’s proposed plan, teachers with up to 10 years of classroom experience would see their base salary rise to at least $33,000 during the 2014-2015 school year, and at least $35,000 by the 2015-2016 school year. Officials predict this will cost the state approximately $200 million over two years.

The state’s early-career teachers are among the lowest-paid in the nation, and the current $30,800 beginning salary is not competitive with surrounding states.

“That’s not even enough to raise a family or pay off student loans,” McCrory said at the press conference. “How do we expect someone to pay that loan with that starting salary?”

McCrory credited the salary increase to hard decisions made by the GOP legislature, and he blamed the absence of raises this year on Medicaid cost overruns and government inefficiency.

Senator David Curtis (R), whose district includes Lincoln County, feels the blame has been wrongly placed onto a state legislative level rather than a local one.

“My real concern is that we are 29th in the country in teacher pay for the state level, but we’re 45th overall before the pay raise will go into effect,” Curtis said. “And that big gap from 29 to 45 is because the local supplements in North Carolina are so low. I think a lot of the anger directed at the legislature is misdirected. I think the city council and county commissioners need to step up to the plate and raise local supplements. That would be a huge help, and I don’t understand why it hasn’t been talked about.”

According to the National Education Association, North Carolina was ranked 47th during 2012 and 2013 among the states for average starting salaries. Providing a $35,000 minimum would vault North Carolina into the middle of those rankings and near the top of the list for Southeastern rivals.

Lincolnton High School Civics and Economics teacher Ian Leith believes McCrory’s proposal is a step in the right direction.

“I’m just glad they’re finally doing something,” Leith said. “I think it’s been pretty bad for the more experienced teachers. When you go seven years without a pay raise, the cost of living increasing, but you gotta start somewhere. I think they’re really seven years too late.”

Curtis also supports the proposal, but still holds some reservations.

“I think it’s a very good idea,” Curtis said. “There’s no question that teachers need to be paid more, and I think this is just the first step of hopefully getting teacher pay across the board higher. However, I am concerned about a lot of the misinformation that’s being put out by various groups. There’s a huge amount of talk about [North Carolina] losing our best teachers by the thousands to other states who pay more. The problem is, according to the latest Department of Public Instruction report, last year we only lost 446 teachers out of 96,000 to other states, and I strongly suspect a good percentage of those were just moving because their spouse got transferred. So, it’s totally bogus to say that we’re losing thousands of our best teachers to other states.”

Curtis said that while teachers do deserve a pay raise, their financial situation is not nearly as bad as the public has been led to believe.

“We’re a very low cost of living state, so the teacher pay here, the dollars go farther than they would in a lot of other states,” he said. “And when you throw in the very generous retirement package the state provides teachers that most private sectors don’t get, teachers are not nearly as bad off as the teacher advocates would lead us to believe.”

Leith, however, feels frustrated with the current salary situation and worries that the stagnant salaries will prove detrimental in the long term.

“That’s just not going to affect your immediate salary; your pension is based on that too,” Leith said. “There are long-term repercussions when you don’t increase pay.”

In addition to the pay announcement, North Carolina leaders and lawmakers backtracked somewhat on their decision to end supplemental pay for teachers who earn master’s degrees, grandfathering in educators who started graduate school courses before mid-2013.

“There’s a lot of data out there that says a teacher getting a master’s degree has nothing to do with improving his or her performance,” Curtis said. “If you’re a bad teacher with a master’s degree, you’re still a bad teacher if you get your master’s degree. There’s also data out there that says there’s very little correlation between teacher performance and seniority. It’s just very interesting to me that we’re basing our pay scale on two factors that are proven to have little relevance to teacher performance: seniority and getting a master’s degree. The state legislature really wants to do what other businesses do and base pay on performance rather than seniority, and I think that’s a very reasonable and rational route to take.”

Leith envisions the idea teacher salary would combine both performance pay and seniority.

“Every five years, teachers could receive a higher base pay, and during the years in between, they could offer teachers incentives,” Leith said. “Right now, there’s no incentive to do anything except to not get fired, and that’s exceptionally frustrating.

“I think there has to be a balance between the understanding that people have to base their lives around a pay idea…I have no idea what I’m going to make from year to year, five years from now, ten years from now,” Leith continued. “It’s a bad policy, and it’s bad economics. No one benefits from that situation. Just pick a plan and go with it, because otherwise, there’s no growth.”

“We want to make sure the children of North Carolina are getting a good education, and all the data shows that teacher performance is a significant factor in how well a child gets educated,” Curtis said. “So, we’re trying to come up with a plan that rewards the good teachers and informs the bad teachers that they should look into another profession.”

 

 

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