08/29/14 — Teachers see bump in checks

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Teachers see bump in checks

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 29, 2014 1:46 PM

Public school teachers will get a little surprise in today's paycheck -- in addition to their legislature-promised raise, some back pay.

The additional money reflects the teacher pay raise that went into effect July 1 because the budget was not finalized until after that date, Rep. John Bell IV said on Wednesday.

But the bump also will be felt by all state employees, he said.

"Every teacher and every state employee will see a raise, absolutely," he said. "Everyone will receive a raise and make more money than they did last year.

"Regardless of what some special interest groups want to say, no teacher will make less than they did last year."

Longevity pay for veteran teachers, tied into the base pay, is also an important part of the discussion, Bell said.

"No one is losing anything," he said. "There's some teachers that will get $1,000 or $1,500 next year.

"I'm hoping our educators will see that by the time they go into retirement, they're looking at $50,000 base pay."

And that doesn't include the local county supplement, he explained, or 10 percent master's degree pay, 12 percent for national boards and any type of coaching supplement.

The pay raise has been a long time coming, Bell said.

"When we started years ago, teacher pay was the No. 1 issue," he said.

Compensating educators with competitive salaries to ensure they stay in the region and improve the state's standing has been an ongoing challenge. With a growing number of retirees, the teacher shortage creates issues with replenishing the pool.

"How do we recruit and retain teachers in their first 10 years? Those are the ones we're losing," Bell said. "The other issue we had to look at -- if we do the teacher raises and do that across the board, it would be a Band-Aid but it wouldn't be a fix."

Reinstating the "step program," the pay scale of compensation based on experience and credentials, could have cost the state more than $500 million, he said.

Because teacher salaries had been frozen for so long, there was controversy over reverting to that program while rewarding veteran teachers and providing incentives for entry-level teachers.

Legislators opted for a streamlined approach to speed up the process.

In July, the Senate and House released details of their $21.25 billion budget agreement. The budget is expected to provide public school teachers with an average 7 percent raise -- or an average of $3,500 per teacher. The $282 million investment represents the largest teacher pay raise in state history, which could move North Carolina from 46th to 32nd in national teacher pay.

The effort is expected to replace what has been called the "archaic" 37-step teacher pay system with a six-step schedule and a compensation package that preserves Medicaid eligibility.

Bell said the budget is also designed to preserve teacher assistant positions, protect classroom funding and give superintendents flexibility to tailor classroom spending to their district's needs.

In the plan, most state employees will receive a $1,000 pay raise and five bonus vacation days. Its intent is to boost early career teacher pay by 14 percent over the next two years, which would position the state as a leader in the Southeast.

One looming issue remains -- teacher tenure. But even that, Bell said, is open for discussion.

"I think later on, moving into the January session, the long session, we'll go back and see what we can do to reward the veteran teachers," he said.

"This is a process. This is the largest dollar raise in state history. It's a great starting point but we do have to figure out what to do moving forward."

Bell said he was pleased with the latest effort, especially since it was done without cutting teachers or making drastic reductions in education, and has the potential to be sustainable moving forward.

"I feel good about where it is now," he said, noting, "There are some things I would have liked to include."

One of those would be the reinstatement of the supplement for educators with a master's degree.

At the same time, Bell said lawmakers are mindful that there are a "tremendous amount" of state employees, such as Highway Patrol, who are just as deserving of a pay hike.

"I think that every state employee, when they get paid on Friday will be excited about the direction the state is going," he said. "I feel like right now, this is a great start."