Add the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators to the growing list of organizations endorsing a sales tax-raising referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot that would boost teacher pay.
If approved by voters, the local sales tax levy would be increased by a quarter-cent. Eighty percent, or an estimated $28 million, would go each year to raise salaries of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools employees. Central Piedmont Community College and the Arts & Science Council would each receive 7.5 percent of the added revenues, and the remainder would go to the public library.
CMAE leaders announced the group’s endorsement Thursday at a news conference, flanked by candidates who had signed a pledge to support the measure.
“This referendum is a chance for the voters of Mecklenburg County to give (CMS) employees the salary increases that they have said on numerous times they deserve,” said CMAE President Charlie Smith, a teacher at Independence High.
Smith and others bemoaned efforts by state legislators, who ultimately raised teacher pay by an average 7 percent. That meant that newer teachers got as much as an 18 percent bump, but veteran teachers were given as little as a 0.29 percent raise.
He said nearly 60 percent of CMS employees don’t make a living wage. “This is an opportunity to begin to rectify this abysmal situation,” Smith said.
Smith said nine candidates signed the group’s pledge.
Mary McCray, CMS school board chairwoman, said the added sales tax wouldn’t hurt the poor or elderly as critics have charged. For every $100 spent, she said, an “insignificant amount” – 25 cents – would be added to the bill and go to the four recipients.
“This is not a huge thing that we’re asking,” McCray said. “If this is approved, we promise that 100 percent of the CMS proceeds will be used for salaries. All employees will receive a salary increase.”
Mecklenburg County commission Chairman Trevor Fuller, a Democrat running at-large for a second term, was one of the candidates who stood with Smith and others. Fuller and commission Vice Chairman Dumont Clarke championed the referendum, which commissioners voted 5-4 to place on the ballot.
“We cannot stand by and do nothing when folks who are in Raleigh do not value public education,” Fuller said. “We know they don’t value public education because they continue to take money away from it.”
Former City Council member Ella Scarborough, another Democratic at-large candidate for county commission, also attended the event. “I started as a teacher,” she said. “Because of the salary, I moved and went to corporate America. I don’t want to see other teachers have to do that.”
Among the three other at-large candidates, Democratic commissioner Pat Cotham initially voted against putting the referendum on the ballot but said at a recent candidate event that she’ll vote for it. At that same event, Republicans Emily Zuyus and Scott Carlisle said they are not supporting the measure.