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Originally published: 2014-02-11 18:12:35
Last modified: 2014-02-12 12:48:55

New teacher pay plan proposed

by Anna Oakes

State Republican leaders on Monday announced a plan to bring starting teacher salaries to $35,000 during the next two years, but critics say the plan is unfair to veteran teachers.

Gov. Pat McCrory has said in recent months that increasing teacher pay would be a priority this year, and on Monday he held a news conference in Guilford County to announce the proposal with Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger.

"Making North Carolina a regional leader and nationally competitive will help us attract the very best talent to our schools and brand our state as a teaching destination, not a layover," the leaders said in a joint statement.

Within the plan, starting teacher pay will increase by $2,200 this year and by an additional $2,000 the following year. Funding for the proposed raises will come from additional and available revenues and will not require a tax increase, according to the governor's office.

Currently, according to the 2013-14 N.C. public school teacher salary schedule, the salary for teachers with five or fewer years of experience is $30,800, with incremental increases each year beginning with the sixth year of experience. The proposed increase of minimum salary to $35,000 would nearly bring starting pay up to the level that 10-year teachers are paid now -- $35,800.

The average starting teacher salary in the U.S. in 2012-13 was $36,141, according to the National Education Association.  

The increase would apply to all teachers with nine or fewer years of experience, said Republican Sen. Dan Soucek of Boone, co-chairman of Senate committees on education and education funding. Soucek said discussions about the teacher pay proposal began last fall.

"We know that teacher pay is very important. We want to recruit the best teachers here in North Carolina," said Soucek. "The way the economy has been turning around, we feel we're in a position to make some commitments we can count on."

The North Carolina Association of Educators responded to the announcement on Monday, stating that while the proposal could help attract the best and brightest to work in the state's schools, "without a comprehensive long-range salary compensation plan, there is very little incentive for any teacher to remain in the profession in our state."

"I think that's fabulous for (beginning teachers). They do need their starting pay at an equitable level compared to other states," said Jennifer Lacy, president of the Watauga County Association of Educators and fourth-grade teacher at Parkway School.

"However, not doing that for all teachers across the board and giving them that increase is just not OK. It gives the impression that the state does not respect veteran teachers," Lacy said. She said the starting pay amount would make it seem as if North Carolina's teacher compensation was average compared with other states, "when in fact it's not that way."

NCAE said North Carolina ranks 46th in the nation for average teacher salaries.

The 2014 short session of the General Assembly begins in May, and both the governor's office and Soucek indicated that state leaders would explore opportunities for additional teacher pay increases as the state revenue outlook becomes clearer.

The big question mark, they say, is Medicaid. Medicaid spending exceeded budget projections by approximately $300 million last year, and state health leaders last month could not provide lawmakers with an accurate picture of this year's numbers, according to media reports.

"There are a lot of other ideas out there we're still trying to iron out. We'll come out with more information as we know more of what we can do," said Soucek. "We don't know what the impact Medicaid and Medicare are going to have. That's a wild card that affects everything."

Said Lacy, "I hope that they do (consider more raises) for the sake of retaining these veteran teachers in the state."