New pay plan for NC teachers sows confusion

Joe Barley-Maloney was miffed last week when he saw the new state salary schedule for teachers leveling off at $50,000 a year for those with 25 years of experience and more.

Barley-Maloney, a U.S. history teacher at Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School, has been teaching for 39 years, 21 in North Carolina. He thought he’d be losing about $4,000 a year in pay. He called Senate leader Phil Berger’s office and talked to other teachers. By Monday afternoon, Barley-Maloney, 62, was pleased, figuring he’ll make more.

The new salary schedule has wrapped thousands of households in confusion, as teachers try to figure how much money they’ll make this year.

“This was the topic of conversation” at a staff meeting Monday, Barley-Maloney said.

The pay plan has several new pieces.

The plan dumps the old salary schedule of 37 steps and replaces it with six pay levels.

Longevity pay, the yearly bonuses to employees who have worked for 10 years or more, are rolled into the teacher salary schedule.

And unlike the last across-the-board 1.2 percent raise in 2012, the percentage increases this year range from 18.5 percent for teachers with five and six years of experience to .29 percent increases for teachers with 30 years experience. Other than the 2012 raise, salaries have been frozen since the recession.

The budget has provisions so that experienced teachers don’t get pay cuts. Legislators included those details “to make sure everyone received an increase,” said Philip Price, chief financial officer for the state Department of Public Instruction.

‘Could have done much worse’

Jasmine Lauer, who teaches 10th grade English at Sanderson High School in Raleigh, has been teaching nearly 16 years. She’s been crunching the numbers since last week, trying to figure out her new salary, which will include bumps for her master’s degree and National Board Certification.

As best she can figure, she’ll get a 3.5 percent raise, not including her longevity pay, which will now be rolled into her regular paycheck instead of being paid as an annual bonus.

Lauer said she’s bothered by the inconsistency in the new scale and low increases for veteran educators.

“Some people are getting minimal raises and then the beginning teachers are getting great raises,” she said.

She said legislators “could have done much better by us. They also could have done much worse.”

Lauer characterized the new pay levels as a “divide and conquer” strategy.

“Most everyone is unhappy across the board even though the beginning teachers feel, like, ‘Yay, we’re going to make more money.’ They also feel it’s an unfair kind of raise.”

She worries that veteran teachers won’t feel encouraged to stay in the profession.

Lower than 2008 plan

While teachers were breaking out their spreadsheets, a comparison of the new plan with the pre-recession, 31-step, 2008 teacher salary schedule whipped through cyberspace.

The comparison showed that salaries in the new plan are lower than they were for 13 steps under the 2008 plan, before inflation is factored in.

Amy Auth, spokeswoman for Senate leader Phil Berger, said the reformed salary schedule is a major step toward attracting and keeping the best teachers in the classroom.

“You cannot rewrite history – you can only make positive changes going forward,” Auth said in a statement. “The facts are legislative Democrats froze the teacher salary schedule in 2009, furloughed teachers, and failed to provide raises in their final years in the majority. In contrast, legislative Republicans have taken a number of steps to turn this trend around since assuming leadership.”

N.C. Association of Educators Vice President Mark Jewell said the 7 percent average teacher raise being touted by legislative leaders doesn’t apply to most teachers with more than 10 years of experience.

“That big jump that they’re promoting has the longevity (pay) factored into it,” he said. “You can’t take something we were already earning, that we were already receiving, and mark it as pay raise.”

He called the new pay scheme “a regressive salary schedule” that gives little incentive to veteran teachers to stay in the classroom.

Instead of steady growth in pay with experience, he said, teachers will get a bump every five years and then four years of flat pay.

The budget treats teachers and school employees differently from other state employees, Jewell added. For example, a bus driver for the Department of Corrections will get $1,000 and five extra vacation days; a school bus driver will get $500.

Berger challenged the NCAE assessment that rolling longevity into the salary schedule inflates the raises.

“It’s unfortunate that instead of celebrating this historic advancement, the NCAE and others are spreading false rumors in an effort to mislead the public and our educators,” Berger said in a statement.

Jewell predicted that the one-time boost for teachers would not necessarily move the needle on the state’s national ranking in teacher pay, which is now near the bottom. While some states are using surpluses to craft longer-term pay increases, he said, the North Carolina budget has a “robbing Peter to pay Paul” feel. Raises are cobbled together with cuts to other valuable agencies and programs, he said.

“We celebrate the pay raises of beginning teachers, but not on the backs of everyone else,” he said. “You see this shell game being played right now.”

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