Last updated: May 29. 2014 4:35PM - 634 Views
By - cberendt@civitasmedia.com

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A $468 million teacher pay plan proposed to take effect in July would be the largest in state history, including raises of more than 10 percent for veteran teachers who voluntarily relinquish job protections in favor of salary bumps.

Senate Republicans unveiled a plan Wednesday to provide North Carolina public school teachers an average 11.2 percent permanent pay raise beginning July 1. Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, told The Independent Thursday he was behind the massive endeavor, which he deemed a crucial investment.

“I believe that education is an investment in our future,” the senator said. “Supporting that investment means offering a compensation package that will allow our public schools to attract and retain the best and brightest teachers.

In speaking with job-creating business owners across the state, Jackson said he has found the most pressing need is an educated workforce to meet labor demands.

“Providing a quality education is more than a moral obligation to the next generation – it’s an economic necessity,” the senator said. “From that perspective, I believe that passing this teacher pay plan is absolutely vital.”

The Senate proposal would provide more than a $5,800 average salary increase per teacher in the first year of implementation. The plan would also repeal the automatic loss of tenure in 2018 and instead offer teachers a choice of whether to maintain that status. Teachers who decide to work on annual contracts for the 2014-15 school year would move to the new pay scale and receive the substantial salary increase. Those who choose to keep tenure would remain on the current pay schedule.

Giving up tenure rights would raise the state-supplied salary of a teacher with five years of experience from almost $31,000 this year to $35,000 next year. Teachers who work in communities able to supplement the state pay with local tax revenues could be paid more. That teacher would get no state pay raise if he or she kept existing job rights.

For more than 40 years, North Carolina law has said veteran teachers cannot be fired or demoted except for reasons that include poor performance, insubordination and immorality. Teachers earning career status after at least four years in a school district can challenge their firing at a hearing. About 57,000 of the state’s nearly 100,000 public school teachers have tenure rights, the state Department of Public Instruction said.

Last summer, Republican lawmakers voted to phase out those protections by 2018, arguing that teachers with their jobs on the line will have new incentive to improve classroom performance. A state Superior Court judge this month ruled the law stripping veteran teachers of the job protections they’d been promised was unconstitutional.

The Senate’s determination to dissolve tenure protections in return for better pay won’t help attract and retain bright teachers, North Carolina Association of Educators President Rodney Ellis said.

“I think it’s unfair to make us select between the two,” said Ellis, an 8th grade language arts teacher in Winston-Salem. “Teachers deserve a salary increase for the number of years that we’ve gone without” raises.

Teacher salaries have been stuck since 2008 except for a 1.2 percent increase in 2012.

“I’ve heard both sides,” Jackson said. “I’ll be honest, I just heard from a teacher’s spouse in Duplin County who was not a happy camper. Some are tickled to death to get a raise and could care less about giving up tenure. Some do not want to give up tenure to get a raise.”

The statewide average teacher salary of nearly $46,000 ranked North Carolina 47th in the country. The Senate’s pay proposal would raise the average to $51,198 a year, about the middle of the national rankings, according to data provided by the Senate. In the southeast, North Carolina would leap from ninth to third, “placing us ahead of Virginia, Tennessee and South Carolina,” Jackson noted.

“When you take into account the retirement and benefits package that North Carolina teachers receive, I believe we will be well positioned to compete with other states in the region,” the senator stated. “Other state employees are also receiving raises. The Senate plan provides for a $1,000 raise for most state employees outside the university system, as well as a cost of living adjustment for retired state employees.”

Specifically, the budget would also provide an additional $39 million for pay raises for other public school employees. Principals and other school administrators would receive an average 2 percent raise while other non-certified school personnel will receive a flat $500 increase ($618 salary and benefit increase), Senate leader Phil Berger said.

Most state employees will receive an $809 salary increase ($1,000 salary and benefit increase), reflecting a 1.9 percent increase. The Senate budget also funds all State Retirement Systems at recommended levels and grants a 0.8 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) to retired state employees and teachers.

“I think we’ve put together a budget that maintains our commitment to fiscal responsibility while also investing in our future, rewarding state employees for their service and honoring our commitment to our retirees,” Jackson attested.

Senate Republicans have pledged to pay for the raises with recurring revenue sources and without a tax hike. Jackson said that will come mostly by finding money within the Department of Public Instruction’s current budget and improving government efficiency elsewhere.

“I had some reservations about the raises at the time because of the recurring cost that comes with them,” the senator conceded. “Since I fully expect our current approach to streamlining government and setting priorities to continue, I am confident that these revenue sources will be available in the future.”

He is equally confident that the teacher pay plan, or some form of it, will come to fruition.

“I think some form of it will be implemented. I am certainly amenable to working with the House and the governor to find ways to amend and improve it,” Jackson said. “I would not be surprised if they tweak it a bit, but I think the intent will remain intact.”

Wire reports contributed to this article. Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121. Follow us on twitter @SampsonInd.

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