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Originally published: 2014-05-30 09:49:12
Last modified: 2014-05-30 09:49:57

New plan to raise teacher pay proposed by officials

by Allison Haver

Senate Republicans are proposing to give North Carolina public school teachers the highest pay raise in the state's history, in exchange for their tenure status.

On Wednesday, Senate leader Phil Bergner announced a proposed teacher pay plan that would increase average salaries by more than 11 percent.

The $468 million proposal would not only provide teachers with the first significant raise in about five years, the plan would also be the largest teacher pay raise in the state's history, according to Berger.

"This plan will boost North Carolina from the current 47th ranking in overall teacher pay to the middle of current rankings," Berger said. The estimate we have is somewhere around 27."

With the new plan, North Carolina will also move from 9th to 3rd in the region moving ahead of Virginia, Tennessee and South Carolina in terms of teacher pay according to Berger.

The proposal also addresses negative feedback from educators who repealed a bill passed last year, which would have involuntarily eliminated career status for all teachers by 2018, but gave some the option of trading it in early for a $5,000 pay increase over four years.

The proposed plan allows teachers to keep career status should they choose.

Teachers with career status are currently protected within North Carolina state law, and cannot be fired or demoted except for reasons including performance, immorality or insubordination.

"Under our plan, teachers who agree to work under annual contracts for the 2014-15 school year would move to a new pay scale and receive the substantial increase," Berger said.

"Those who choose to keep tenure will remain on the current pay schedule."

State Sen. Dan Soucek agreed that the proposed plan does offer teachers an option and "quite an incentive."

"This plan restores it (tenure), Soucek said on Thursday. "Anyone who wants it can keep it, but they stay on the old salary schedule."

Soucek also serves as co-chairman on both the Senate Appropriations on Education/Higher Education Board and Senate Education/Higher Education Board.

"It is important that North Carolina looks closely at our current teacher pay plan," Watauga County Schools Human Resources Director Stephen Martin said.

Since 2009, educators have not received a pay increase other than a 1.2 percent raise in 2012-13.

"On the surface the 11 percent average pay raise looks like a step in the right direction.

 However, as I understand the proposal, this raise would be offered only to teachers who agree to give up their career status (tenure)." 

"A preliminary review of the budget proposal shows that current longevity pay would be rolled into these salary increases, so the net salary change for a teacher with more than 10 years experience would likely not be 11 percent."

Martin and other county school officials were also concerned about the cuts to teacher assistants in the proposed budget.

"Teacher assistants in the lower grades have been vital to the success of our students in Watauga County," he said.  

 "We appreciate the attention being given to bringing North Carolina teacher salaries closer to the national average, but we have some reservations about the trade-offs that are required with this budget proposal," Martin said.

Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ordered a permanent injection against implementing the state law that ends teacher tenure.

Judge Hobgood ruled that it is unconstitutional to rescind tenure from teachers who already have it.

He has not yet released his official order, but his ruling is believed to apply to teachers across the state.

In a separate case, Special Superior Court Judge Richard Doughton granted the Guilford County and Durham school boards temporary relief from having to offer contracts to certain teachers in exchange for their tenure. The state has not yet appealed that ruling.

The Watauga County Board of Education filed two petitions to the N.C. State Board of Education expressing the county board's disapproval on the new law.

An additional $39 million has been factored in the budget to give pay raises to other public school employees including a 2 percent increase to principals and other public school administrators and a $500 flat pay increase to non-instructional employees.

"By ensuring that over 90 percent of these dollars for public school pay raises go directly to teachers we are prioritizing those that have the greatest impact on student performance and providing a major incentive for those teachers to stay in the classroom," Berger said.