Editorials

Time to pay North Carolina’s teachers the market rate

The Observer editorial board

Kevin Strawn, a teacher at East Mecklenburg High School, and other educators brought bags of chicken feed to Gov. Pat McCrory’s Charlotte office to tell him he can keep his “chicken feed” $750 bonuses.
Kevin Strawn, a teacher at East Mecklenburg High School, and other educators brought bags of chicken feed to Gov. Pat McCrory’s Charlotte office to tell him he can keep his “chicken feed” $750 bonuses. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Since we have small-government conservatives running Raleigh these days, you’d think all public-sector employees’ paychecks would be feeling the squeeze.

Not so. It seems some public employees are created more equal than others. Namely, high-ranking executive types, especially those who handle large amounts of money or work closely with lawmakers.

For those folks, N.C. conservatives always seem ready to justify pay raises by citing the market; we must pay the market rate for top talent.

That’s what Mitch Kokai, a spokesman for the conservative John Locke Foundation, said after the latest batch of big pay hikes hit the news. Twenty-five key investment employees in the state Treasurer’s Office got pay bumps averaging $49,000 earlier this year after a compensation study suggested they were making less than other public pension fund employees.

Carlene Hughes, a portfolio manager, got $87,872 – a whopping 102 percent bump that took her salary to $173,800.

And that’s fine, if that’s truly the market rate for her position helping run the state’s $90 billion pension fund. As Kokai said, “when there is a market for a certain type of employee, it probably makes sense for a government to use market-based pay.”

The same logic applied last month when the University of North Carolina system’s board of governors gave pay hikes of up to 19 percent to a dozen chancellors. Just trying to keep up with the market. Same thing early this year, when N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore approved raises of more than 20 percent for staffers in his office.

So while beginning teachers got a modest pay raise, most others made do with a measly $750 one-time bonus instead of the 2 percent pay raise the N.C. House wanted to give them. It wasn’t that we couldn’t afford it. We had a $400 million surplus, and Gov. Pat McCrory is touting $4.4 billion in tax cuts on the campaign trail.

The market certainly says teachers should have a more substantial raise. We’ve fallen to 47th in teacher pay, and teacher turnover is rising.

In the Book of Matthew there’s a saying: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Our legislative leaders aren’t putting money into public school teachers because they don’t truly value what teachers do; it’s not where their heart is.

Their heart is in the board room, where the money gets counted.

We feel hopeful that lawmakers will finally do something substantial on teacher pay next year. It’s an election year, after all. One would think they could use a hefty teacher raise to run on.

But how much more gratifying would it be if we had leadership that helps teachers because it believes in them, not because there might be votes in it?

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