By Chris Berendt Staff Writer
January 25, 2014
Sen. Brent Jackson said he expects at least some teachers in Sampson County and across the state to get a pay bump during the N.C. General Assembly’s upcoming short session.
Clinton City Schools Board of Education member Diane Viser inquired about teacher pay during a town hall forum Thursday night at Sampson Community College. In attendance at the forum were local lawmakers Sen. Brent Jackson (R-Sampson), Rep. Larry Bell (D-Sampson) and Rep. William Brisson (D-Bladen).
There were about 25 people at the forum, which although it did not have a huge turnout, was not lacking in substance. Concerns included the continued trickle-down effect of federal and state budget-tightening to counties, the need to open up lost revenue streams, the unclear status of sweepstakes cafes, animal welfare legislation and, as is often the case, all things schools and education.
Viser led into that discussion, with an emphasis on compensation for teachers.
“Teachers really deserve more money than they are being paid,” Viser asserted. “Most good teachers do what they do for reasons other than pay. But right now, it’s hard for a teacher to get through life on just what we pay them. What we pay them is not enough.”
Viser said legislators and the general public should not assume the love of teaching will keep those educators going, because it is simply not enough in many cases to sustain them and their families.
Right now, a fifth-year teacher who has a bachelor’s degree makes a little over $30,000. In 2008, a fifth-year teacher with a bachelor’s made roughly $35,000. Viser said the lack of compensation worries her, and makes a good argument for maintaining master’s pay.
“How are we going to keep the good teachers we have in the profession?” she inquired. “Some of the most dedicated teachers are the ones who go back to school and get a master’s degree. They build their base of knowledge, they build their skills, they build their dedication and expertise and, therefore, they’re committed to a full career in teaching. We really must come up with that 10 percent to pay these dedicated, committed professional teachers, the ones willing to go beyond, and of course (compensate) all our teachers.”
The General Assembly passed a budget bill last year that axed supplemental pay for teachers who obtain master’s degrees, beginning with the 2014-15 school year. That means the loss of a 10-15 percent pay bump for future master’s degree holders. Teachers who currently hold master’s degrees will be grandfathered in.
Jackson said teacher compensation has been a topic of discussion in the state Legislature.
“I’m convinced that you’re going to see a pay raise. Whether it’s across the board or not is debatable,” Jackson commented. “I don’t know what that percentage is going to be, but I’m convinced you’ll see, by the end of this short session, teacher pay increase.”
The senator said he believed the compensation will be performance-based, with local input involved, taking up from legislation that has already passed. Viser requested that, if the compensation is left to local discretion, that one of the options on the table be to spread the raises across the board.
Republican Gov. Pat McCrory has made the same promise of a teacher pay bump in the past week. McCrory offered in last year’s state budget a 1 percent across-the-board raise for teachers and state employees, but the GOP-led Legislature did not include it.
Bell, a longtime local educator, said he hoped a pay increase would be across-the-board.
“If you don’t do it that way, you’re going to have some people on the lower end who will lose completely,” said Bell. “The sad part about this is that there will always be a teacher in front of the students when they get to school — somebody, a warm body in front of them. That is where the trouble comes in, when we don’t have qualified teachers standing in front of those kids teaching them. I’d rather have the ones we have there staying and we need to do something to keep them there and not run them off. The way we’re going right now, we’re going to run them off.”
Bell added that the entire operation, especially when talking about schools, is important. So, while teacher pay was a hot topic, custodians, cafeteria workers, school bus drivers and others were just as vital to a smooth operation, he noted.
“You have to make sure you have everyone working together to make sure that operation goes on. You have to let all of them feel like they’re important,” Bell attested. “If you start picking out some and say we’re going to pay you, but we’re not going to pay these over here, you’re making a mess.”
Brisson agreed, saying that North Carolina was “so far away” from the national level in teacher’s pay, anything done on the subject now had to encompass all teachers in order to make up ground.
“It’s got to be all teachers, K through 12. If you’re a certified teacher in the North Carolina Public Schools, we hired them, we have to pay them and give them an opportunity,” Brisson said.
He said, while certified teachers should be well compensated, they also needed to perform well. If they do not, a system whereby the local school system can replace that educator needs to be in place. Therein lies the rub.
“You have to have somebody else want the job. Our pay is so low, we don’t have people standing in line to get those jobs,” said Brisson. “We probably do have some weak teachers in the classrooms, but it might be the best available we can get.”
A $500 pay raise has been discussed. Brisson said that is less than $10 a week.
“(That) is an insult, I’ll be honest with you,” he remarked. “That’s not going to help our problem.”
And the problem does not end with teachers, as there are over 700,000 state employees, including the teachers.
“Guess what, these folks are going to want (a raise) too. They haven’t had one either,” Brisson said.
He cited a number that has been quoted at the state level, noting it would likely take $500 million to give a small pay bump to all those state employees.
“There’s going to be a raise,” Jackson said. “How it is going to be distributed I think is still up in the air.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.