Teacher supplements must go up, and higher than just the 1 percent proposed in the schools’ budget negotiations.

With an average teacher supplement of $3,110 this year, according to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, Wayne County Public Schools finds itself in the middle of the pack when compared to the state’s other 114 school districts. Wayne ranks 46th.

Average isn’t bad. But don’t we want to be exceptional? Wayne’s surrounding counties are reaching for the brass ring on the teacher supplement merry-go-round. Johnston County pays teachers $5,417, Wilson County is at $3,523, with Duplin and Sampson counties falling close behind and still ahead of Wayne. Among the contiguous counties, only Lenoir and Greene counties pay smaller supplements to teachers than Wayne County.

Superintendent Michael Dunsmore said in Tuesday’s News-Argus that the additional 1 percent teacher supplement will not make Wayne County competitive, but the Wayne County Board of Commissioners allowing the increase could be seen as a good-faith gesture.

“Compared to Johnston and Wake ($8,720 supplement) counties, if I were a 20-something millennial, and I just had a new teaching degree and wanted to live cheaply in Wayne County, I would be driving to Wake to teach.”

Fair enough. The difference between Wayne’s and Wake’s teacher supplements and the cost of living would more than cover the expense and trouble that comes with commuting. The even bigger problem is that the young people are not returning to Wayne County when they leave, and millennials are not knocking on Realtors’ doors to buy homes in Goldsboro and Wayne County.

Many people refer to this as “brain drain,” the departure of educated or highly trained people from a particular county for better wages and living conditions. Wayne County recently found itself ranking among the bottom 40 counties in the state economically. That alone could drive people away or keep them from coming to Wayne. But if you are a teacher, and you are going to live in an economically stagnant county — as far as numbers reported to the state go — if your pay isn’t even competitive with the surrounding counties, you would be looking for other places to work and live.

By far, I am not a financial guru of any sort. But I do know that a 1 percent increase is not even a good faith gesture, my apologies to Superintendent Dunsmore. That 1 percent is an embarrassment to the county and its residents. It says that the schools do not have confidence that the county commissioners are willing to do better, and that the commissioners don’t have a real sense of the importance paying teachers well has on education.

A planning survey compiled by Mercer, which offers information to meet the needs of a consistently changing workforce, set the 2019 cost of living allowance at 2.9 percent nationally. Give teachers a 1 percent increase in a supplement? Fine. But after that, match the 2.9 percent COLA for a total of a 3.9 percent increase. That’s still not high enough, but it takes the sting out of the amount now being proposed.

I knew a waitress who provided exceptional service all the time. Once, she had a curmudgeon of a diner sit down at one of her tables. The guy would not stop complaining. No matter how hard she tried to make his experience at the cafè a positive one, he would keep on bellyaching. After the man paid for his meal, he left a tip for my friend: a Lincoln head penny. The waitress was embarrassed and insulted. She walked out to the parking lot, with a great deal of aplomb and courtesy, and gave the diner back his penny and said, “No thank you, but please have a nice day.”

I am not suggesting that if the county commissioners only approve a 1 percent supplement for teachers in 2019/20 that they should not accept it. What I am saying is that the county commissioners should not make teachers feel as embarrassed as my friend by leaving only 1 percent in the budget for supplements.

As residents of Wayne County, we can do better by our teachers and our students. County leaders need to stop looking at the schools’ requests as education spending but as education investment. The advances made today may not show dividends tomorrow. But down the road — three, five, 10 years — the improvement in education will be so significant it may be incalculable.

Duke Conover is the editor of the Goldsboro News-Argus. Email Duke at dconover@newsargus.com or call 919-739-7840.