Four superintendents from North Carolina’s largest school districts came together Tuesday to express their concerns about lawmakers’ 2014 budget proposals, as the legislature comes close to giving teachers the first significant pay raise they’ve seen in years – but not without asking them for significant sacrifices.
“At a time when other businesses are recovering from the economic recession and are steadily reinvesting in their work, North Carolina has failed to reinvest in its schools,” said Jim Merrill, Wake County Schools Superintendent, before reporters at Wake County Schools’ headquarters in Cary.
“More specifically, [North Carolina] has failed to reinvest in the lifeblood of its schools, and that would be the teachers.”
Merrill explained that a failure to invest in employees brings about the inevitable – those employees leave.
“In Wake County, it appears teachers are leaving in record numbers,” said Merrill, who anticipates dealing with 1,500 vacancies this summer out of just 10,000 positions available.
Wake County has experienced unusually high teacher turnover this year, attributable to years of no raises for teachers, severe cuts to classroom resources, and the eventual dissolution of tenure, which offers teachers due process in the event of dismissal or demotion.
All four superintendents were grateful for the prospect of some kind of pay raise for teachers that each of the budget proposals put forth.
Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget proposal includes an average two percent raise for teachers and boosts pay for beginning teachers.
– To pay for the pay raises, however, McCrory makes a $49 million cut to the UNC system budget, even though UNC has experienced years of severe funding reductions handed down from the state.
The Senate budget would offer teachers an eye watering 11 percent raise on average – but only if teachers relinquish their tenure protections immediately.
It’s a move that’s seen as a reaction to a recent court decision that ruled the repeal of tenure for those who have already achieved it is unconstitutional – so lawmakers would instead force teachers to voluntarily give tenure up if they want to pull themselves out of a low-wage hole.
The Senate budget also slashes other areas of education to pay for the steep raise, notably cutting the jobs of more than 7,000 teacher assistants and crippling the Department of Public Instruction with a 30 percent reduction.
The House has their own proposal for paying teachers on average five percent more, and is generally more in line with McCrory’s budget pitch.
What remains unclear is how the House will pay for the teacher pay raise – their budget relies heavily on increased lottery revenue thanks to doubling the lottery’s advertising budget, but that proposal was put into question when it was revealed that their revenue projections for the lottery could be grossly overstated.
The superintendents were encouraged by the prospect of a teacher pay raise as well as the Career Pathways plan that is contained in both the Governor’s budget as well as the House plan.
Career pathways would provide more financial incentives for teachers who produce positive outcomes in the classroom, such as higher test scores; for those who teach subjects that are in high demand in the marketplace (e.g. chemistry or math); and for those who teach in hard to staff schools.
“The [career pathways plan] is inclusive, it rewards teachers and it has flexibility,” said Tim Markley, Superintendent of New Hanover County Schools.
Superintendents were also pleased with the idea to pay beginning teachers more, citing the difficulty they anticipate in hiring new teachers into the profession.
“Coming out of high school, we are finding more and more that students are choosing not to enter teaching as a profession,” said Markley.
Ed Croom, Superintendent of Johnston County Schools, said one of his concerns with the budget proposals is the shifting of state fiscal responsibilities to local counties.
“Shifting financial responsibilities to our counties will have a tremendous impact on both their budget and on the school budget,” said Croom.
In many school districts, teachers are paid not only from state funds, but local funds too. An across the board pay raise instituted without taking this funding structure into account will force local school districts to come up with extra funds to be sure all teachers get the same pay raise.
For the ten largest school districts in the state, an additional $30 million in recurring funds will be necessary to fund pay raises for locally funded teachers.
That scenario is complicated by the fact that budget proposals are also looking to shift the fiscal liability for workers compensation from the state’s coffers to local districts. In Johnston County alone, that’s an increased liability of $3 million in recurring funds.
“Pushing fiscal responsibilities to local districts is almost impossible to sustain over several years,” said Croom.
Frank Till, Superintendent of Cumberland County schools, deplored the Senate’s proposed cuts to teacher assistants and noted that lawmakers misrepresented the research pointed to as justification for those cuts.
Till, on behalf of the superintendents, also held up his support for the Common Core, which are more rigorous academic standards the state recently adopted but are now up for repeal by the legislature.
“We know it’s not perfect…let’s fix it, not nix it,” said Till.
The superintendents planned to meet with lawmakers in Raleigh Tuesday to express their concerns and hopes for the 2014 state budget.
Education reporter Lindsay Wagner can be reached at 919.861.1460 or email@example.com