Governor Pat McCrory seeks higher North Carolina teacher pay

McCrory delivers the news at his alma mater, Ragsdale High School in Guilford County, Monday
February 10, 2014 2:56:29 PM PST
Gov. Pat McCrory and other Republican leaders are proposing a higher minimum salary for North Carolina's least experienced public school teachers as part of a long-awaited proposal designed to improve morale and retention.

The McCrory administration said the plan, unveiled to teachers and students at Ragsdale High School in Guilford County at a news conference Monday morning, will increase starting teacher pay by $2,200 this year and by an additional $2,000 the following year. Funding for the proposed raises will come from additional and available revenues and will not require a tax increase.

The plan would, in part, ensure all public school teachers make a base salary of at least $33,000 during the 2014-15 school year and at least $35,000 the following year.

Governor McCrory - who attended Ragsdale High in the 1970s - was flanked by Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis for the announcement.

"There's no greater investment we can make than in preparing our kids for the future, and there's no question that high-quality teachers lead to better student achievement," said McCrory

Not counting local supplements, North Carolina's public school teachers with zero to five years of experience currently make a base salary of $30,800. Teachers have had one experience-based salary increase since the 2008-09 school year, and that increase was 1.2 percent in 2012. Teachers with six and seven years of experience currently earn a base salary of less than $33,000. At least 24,000 teachers would benefit from the increase.

But veteran teachers - who are being left out of the increase - weren't impressed by Monday's announcement.

Kate Wernesbach was one of dozens of teachers who took part in the Emerging Issues Forum in Raleigh Monday. She said she's taught for 15 years, but her last raise was six years ago.

"I think all teachers deserve a raise! We all work really hard and I'm good at what I do, and I should be compensated for that," Wernesbach offered.

Wernesbach said she and other public school educators want to hear Governor McCrory say they'll get a bump in pay - since some teachers are leaving the state for places that do pay more.

"Minimum would be cost of living, I would say. And it's been six years, so there's a lot to compensate," she said.

But McCrory's plan only targets newer teachers.

"I think it's wonderful to entice them to stay, but why, because I've been teaching longer, do I not get compensated for the hard work I've put in? I just don't think it's fair," said Wernesbach.

The new salary floors are estimated to cost roughly $200 million over the two years. The General Assembly would have to approve any plan before it goes to McCrory's desk.

The salary proposal would equate to a 7.1 percent increase for the next school year for those with bachelor's degrees currently at the bottom of the teacher pay schedule. Going from $33,000 to $35,000 would be another 6 percent increase.

North Carolina was ranked 47th during 2012-13 among the states for average starting salaries, according to the National Education Association. The $35,000 minimum would vault North Carolina into the middle of those rankings and near the top of the list for Southeastern rivals.

While in charge of the legislature, Democrats and later Republicans blamed the lack of pay raises on the Great Recession and the slowing recovery producing anemic state revenues.

This past year McCrory and GOP legislative leaders said a Medicaid shortfall approaching $500 million siphoned away funds. Critics of Republicans say the lack of a pay raises reinforced what they called the GOP's drive to harm public education in North Carolina.

McCrory and lawmakers have said they're committed to passing teacher raises during this year's legislative session. The governor formed a teacher advisory committee to receive input. Other organizations also have chimed in with options.

The governor and legislative leaders have said they want to reward teachers for classroom performance. McCrory also said last year he wanted to tweak a law phasing out higher pay for advance degrees so that teachers seeking a master's degree would still get a salary bump even if they don't finish before this spring.

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