News & Observer, 1/28/16

House Speaker Tim Moore said Thursday that he’d like to give teachers raises this year, but he rejected a proposal for a 10 percent increase, calling it unrealistic.

Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson suggested the 10 percent base pay increase Wednesday at a meeting of a House select committee. A 10 percent raise for all public school teachers would cost about $540 million.

Moore visited the same committee Thursday morning to say increases near the 2 percent the House proposed in its budget last year are more likely to be considered. And raises must be negotiated with the state Senate, he added.

“We’ve got to be responsible with the numbers that we talk about with employee pay raises,” he said.

Later, Moore said no range has been discussed because no one knows how much the state will have available to spend next year.

State workers did not get across-the-board raises this year. Teachers and other state employees received $750 bonuses. Teachers early in their careers got raises to bring their annual pay to $35,000, and the budget included funds for step increases.

House speaker calls teacher pay proposal political
House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, is speaking out against calls for 10 percent across-the-board raises for the state's teachers, calling the proposal unrealistic and unfair to other state employees. A 10 percent raise for all public school teachers would cost about $540 million, Moore said, requiring state budget writers to raise additional revenues of at least $250 million. A better plan is to come up with a realistic number for raises for teachers and all other state employees, and to dedicate additional funding to attract and keep teachers of science, technology, engineering and math, Moore said.
Clifton Dowell |

The House Select Committee on Education Strategy and Practices is talking about raises for teachers and how to structure them, and salaries for school principals and community college instructors.

Thursday’s committee meeting featured a panel of district superintendents who talked about how the legislature could make it easier for them to hire teachers at a time when it’s hard to fill vacancies, even in elementary schools.

Trouble hiring math, science and special education teachers isn’t new, said Beverly Emory, superintendent at Winston-Salem/Forsyth schools. But for the first time, her district had 25 elementary school vacancies when the school year started, she said.

Frank Till, Cumberland County superintendent, said his district started the school year with 50 vacancies. Affluent schools, where a job opening once would attract seven or eight applicants, are now “lucky to get one for some positions,” he said.

Till was among the superintendents who mentioned another obstacle, saying it should be easier for people who move to the state to get teaching jobs. Cumberland has a pool of military spouses willing to work, Till said, but the hurdles to a state license are too high.

In an interview, Rebecca Garland, deputy state superintendent, said each state has its own testing requirements for out-of-state teachers, making it hard to compare North Carolina with others.

But she knows superintendents are frustrated because elementary school teaching jobs are becoming harder to fill.

“Elementary education has always been an area where we have not had a shortage,” she said. “Really, we have always had a nice pool of candidates for elementary school. The teacher shortage is extending to all areas of K-12.”

Superintendents said the state needs a long-range plan to attract and keep teachers.

Increasing pay should be part of the strategy, but creating ways for teachers to take on leadership roles and recognizing exceptional teachers are also important, they said.

“We need a long-range plan,” said John Parker, interim superintendent for Roanoke Rapids schools. “Teaching has become less of a career and more of a short-term job.”

Sean Bulson, Wilson County superintendent, said an across-the-board raise would elevate the overall quality of classroom teachers by deepening the pool of job candidates.

“Despite the shortage, we’re working to push our least effective – and in some cases, ‘least effective’ is the nice word – teachers out the door,” he said. “Because the pool isn’t so deep, we’re not going to push that mediocre teacher out that we might be able to do when we had some bench strength.”

The superintendents took turns criticizing the teacher salary schedule, which tops out at 25 years’ experience; the school grading system that they said assigns poor grades to schools even when teachers and students are making big strides; and the decision to stop funding NC Teaching Fellows, a scholarship and enrichment program for prospective teachers.

“We’ve disincentivized teaching pretty much on every level,” Bulson said. “All of the things that affect supply and demand in teaching are the things we’ve chipped away at over the last few years. So the answer has to be complex.”