LUMBERTON — Gov. Pat McCrory is expected to sign into law a budget that will give teachers a 7 percent pay increase, which Republicans say is the largest in the history of the state that comes without a tax hike, but not all educators are happy.
“The devil is in the details,” said Mark Jewell, vice president for the North Carolina Association of Educators, who met with Robeson County NCAE members on Friday to discuss the budget plan. “Once you start peeling away the layers it becomes more clear. We really didn’t see it until later this week. They leaked it out that we were getting these huge raises but none of the details. We started raising the issue, ‘are you taking away an earned benefit?’”
According to Jewell, legislators have played what he describes as a “shell game” by offering raises, but taking away teacher longevity pay, which he said has been “rolled into” the raises, meaning the 7 percent increase is only a 7 percent increase for teachers who are just starting their careers, and when compared to what teachers would receive with their longevity increases, for some it would be a pay cut.
“I can use my own pay as an example,” said Teressa Davis, president of the Robeson County Association of Educators. “As someone who has worked as a teacher for 30 years now, under this new pay system I would be making $50,000 a year, but with no changes and my longevity intact, I am making $50,536. That is a loss of $536, and they want us to be thanking them for our raise.”
Another problem with the new budget, says Davis, is that each raise includes another five-year freeze in teacher salaries, while other states will be continuing to increase their teacher salaries. Davis said a teacher in North Carolina would have to work 20 years to reach the salary of a first-year teacher in Texas, which she said is $46,805.
“The main issue is that they have taken away something that educators have had in place since 1989, from one single group, specifically,” said Monica Graham, an assistant principal at Red Springs Middle School. “Other people in the educational system, principals, assistant principals, they are not having their longevity taken away, but teachers are. Why are they targeting one group?”
Jewell also said the NCAE is concerned about where the money for the raises is coming from — and whether it will be available in future years.
“There are cuts in human and health services for the poor, even the rainy day fund has been raided,” Jewell said. “All of this money is not sustainable because it is nonrecurring, which provides a huge problem for next year. And depending on money from the North Carolina Education Lottery? They are literally gambling on the hope that people gamble.”
Jewell believes that faltering approval ratings of legislators and the governor led to a budget that he says gives a false impression of benefiting teachers.
Jewell believes it will hit poor communities like Robeson County the hardest when it comes to recruiting new teachers. At the moment, the Public Schools of Robeson County has nearly 70 teacher vacancies, and Graham says that unless McCrory vetoes the proposal, that number is likely to grow.
“If you are a starting teacher and you are trying to choose where to teach, why would you choose to work in a place that seems to resent their teachers?” Graham said. “How are we going to compete with all these other states?”