Gov. McCrory proposes small NC teacher raises now, big changes in coming years

Gov. Pat McCrory said Wednesday he’ll ask state legislators to give all teachers 2 percent raises this year and move toward revamping the way North Carolina’s teachers are paid.

The long-term plan, which will be piloted by eight districts if the General Assembly approves, would base pay not just on experience and credentials but on performance, market competition and leadership roles for classroom teachers. It could add up to an extra $20,000 in annual pay for teachers who meet all the marks, while leaving lower performers without automatic yearly raises, McCrory said.

“The current pay plan is old, it’s outdated, and it doesn’t frankly work for the 21st century,” McCrory said.

Despite recent grim budget projections, the governor said there’s money in 2014-15 for small across-the-board raises, along with the 7 percent raises for early-career teachers that he and legislative leaders announced in February.

McCrory said his budget, which will be released next week, will include $265 million for teacher raises, including the early-career boosts announced in February, $9 million to pilot the new “career pathways” approach, $3.6 million to expand early childhood education and $46 million to double the money available for textbooks.

The plan was unveiled at N.C. A&T State University with support from superintendents, business leaders and some state legislators, who hailed it as a blend of emergency measures and much-needed long-range strategy.

“Instead of being in the middle of a forest fire with a squirt gun, we’re going to bring out the fire hose,” said state Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union County.

But it didn’t debut with the support from Republican legislative leaders that the February plan did. A news release from McCrory’s office touted the plan as “a unified strategy” from the governor, Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis, but neither Tillis nor Berger attended the announcement. McCrory said he has support from Tillis, who just won a primary race for U.S. Senate Tuesday night.

McCrory’s staff acknowledged Berger hadn’t actually reviewed the plan, though staff from the two offices spoke. A statement from Berger’s office supported only the early-career raises announced previously.

“We look forward to receiving and reviewing copies of the governor’s newest proposal and how he plans to fund it in his budget, and will consider it during the upcoming session,” said Berger spokeswoman Amy Auth.

Some teachers and Democratic legislators said 2 percent is too little, calling on McCrory and other Republicans to give up tax cuts to pay for bigger, quicker raises. A spokesman for the N.C. Association of Educators said “a better approach would be to delay this year’s scheduled $300 million tax cut for the very wealthy and profitable corporations” to provide 5 percent across the board, while state Rep. Larry Hall, D-Durham County, called it “election-year rhetoric and short-term Band-Aids.”

Local control

Supporters who attended Wednesday’s announcement included Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Heath Morrison, Wake Superintendent Jim Merrill, Guilford Superintendent Maurice “Mo” Green and Mooresville Superintendent Mark Edwards. They hailed McCrory’s promise to work closely with local educators to craft details of a new pay plan.

“We must have our local districts and state working together to enhance the profession of teaching,” Morrison said.

Despite his criticism of the small raise, NCAE Vice President Mark Jewell said the long-term plan incorporates ideas the group shared with McCrory’s staff. “We look forward to working in support of a fair and workable salary schedule for the future,” Jewell wrote.

The $200 million plan announced in February by McCrory and legislative leaders would provide $4,200-a-year raises for starting teachers over the next two years. McCrory said that plan, which provides immediate 7 percent raises for teachers in their first seven years, will be in his 2014-15 budget.

His proposal adds 2 percent raises for teachers who don’t get a boost under the other plan, and $1,000 raises for other state employees. Dana Cope, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, called that “a fantastic start.”

Puzzle pieces

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and state Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican who co-chaired a recent task force on teacher compensation, unveiled a plan later Wednesday to set up an endowment fund for teacher performance pay, with money coming from donations, special license plates and the state budget. Forest said the fund would be “another piece of the puzzle” that could help support McCrory’s ideas.

Last summer the General Assembly passed a two-year, $20.6 billion budget that included no raises for teachers and other state employees. The 2014 short session, which begins Wednesday, would normally be a time for relatively small budget adjustments, rather than major initiatives.

But anger over teacher pay and working conditions has been building across the state. Teachers have received only one raise – 1.2 percent statewide and 3 percent in Mecklenburg County – in the past five years. The state ranks 46th in average teacher pay and trails all neighboring states.

State budget analysts recently forecast a $445 million shortfall for the current fiscal year, which some said could jeopardize teacher raises.

Budget Director Art Pope said the state has money available to cover that shortfall and still expects 1.7 percent growth in 2014-15. McCrory said covering long-term changes in the teacher pay scale will be top priority for any additional revenue growth in coming years and will take precedence over “future tax changes.”

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