The ongoing funding debate between Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Mecklenburg County may heat up again now that an advocacy group has renewed requests for the county to raise teacher pay.
In an email last week, Erlene Lyde, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators, asked commissioners to increase the county’s supplement to teacher salaries and create a local supplement for low-wage CMS employees, such as custodians, cafeteria workers and bus drivers.
The proposal, which CMAE estimates would cost $19.5 million over four years, only addresses raising the local supplement, Lyde said. The group wants commissioners to raise the highest pay level for teachers with 30-plus years of experience to $60,000.
Today, starting pay for teachers with bachelor’s degrees is just over $40,000 and doesn’t go up until teachers get their next raise in five years, according to CMAE. For teachers with 30 years’ experience and a bachelor’s, salaries cap at about $58,000.
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Increasing pay would help CMS recruit and retain quality teachers, and dispel poverty for low-paid workers, Lyde said: “We are in a crisis in terms of teachers leaving so this is a different way to keep them.”
The county isn’t responsible for teacher pay raises but matches what the state legislature gives to state-funded teachers. For example, lawmakers this year approved a one-time $750 bonus for teachers, and increased starting pay for new teachers to $35,000. Mecklenburg matched that for county-funded teachers, and gave CMS a $14 million boost in funding.
Mecklenburg County has given CMS over $1.5 billion in funding over the last three fiscal years. The county devoted 44 percent of its budget to CMS this year.
County commissioners can supplement teacher pay to keep salaries competitive with other school districts. But they haven’t raised the amount for several years. Lyde hopes the county begins talks of an increase in a joint meeting with the school board Feb. 9.
The idea comes just as commissioners Friday plan to explore new funding options for schools to reduce acrimony with CMS at budget time.
Commissioner Bill James said CMAE’s idea has flaws because it suggests the county is CMS’ primary funding source, and would result in a sizable tax increase.
“If the state adjusts the salary schedule up to what you are citing, I am sure the county would seriously consider matching that (subject to budget constraints),” he wrote to Lyde. “The central problem is the inability of the legislature to provide what you believe is an adequate salary.”
The state, which sets teacher salary levels, in 2014-15 gave CMS $5,066 per student, below the state average of $5,638.
“I’m in favor of a supplement (increase)” as long as low-wage workers benefit, commissioner Vilma Leake said. Commissioners Chairman Trevor Fuller agreed teacher pay should go up but he’s unsure if CMAE’s proposal is the way to do it.
“We can’t keep being not competitive,” he said. “CMAE’s proposal is a good place to start a conversation.”
CMS teacher starting salaries by degree
Pay with less than a year of experience: $40,246.50
Pay with 30 years’ experience: $58,525
Pay with less than a year of experience: $44,267.30
Pay with 30 years’ experience: $65,224.50
Pay with less than a year of experience: $45,527.30
Pay with 30 years’ experience: $66,484.50
Pay with less than a year of experience: $46,797.30
Pay with 30 years’ experience: $67,754.50
*Salaries for teachers with National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification can range from $45,000 to over $74,000 depending on years of experience.