Point of View

Only in NC could a possible pay raise become a nightmare for a teacher

February 13, 2014 

I am a veteran educator who was running late to a recent faculty meeting. I tried to sneak in, but the creak of the door turned heads because the room had been silent. My colleagues were engrossed in the review of the “Top 25 Percent.”

The silence took me aback. Usually chatter flurries over a controversial topic. The air was heavy with lingering thoughts. Expressions contorted in an attempt to comprehend. Teachers, perhaps, were wondering, “Will I be in the top 25 percent?” Or contemplating, “What will I do if I am in the top 25 percent?”

For those not familiar with the “Top 25 Percent,” it is a raise for teachers performing in the top 25 percent. It requires the top 25 percent (who accept the deal) to give up their career status in exchange for a four-year contract and a raise. Career status is North Carolina’s version of tenure. It’s not tenure. I am a careered teacher. I do not have tenure like educators in a state with teacher unions or like a university professor. It is an accomplishment. It does not guarantee me a job if I don’t do my job. It just indicates that I have performed well enough over a period of time to earn the right to due process should I make a mistake along the way. That’s it.

As I listened, I wondered: Do other professions require their “best” employees to give up an accomplishment to get a raise? Do other professions use raises to lure employees into giving up due process? I’m not talking a sacrifice for a promotion. I’m talking a trade-off for a raise in salary. Has anyone else’s professional organization implored her not to take money for a job well done?

Then justifications came. “Well, career status is gone in 2018 under the current law.” But that is not the point. If I am in the top 25 percent and I take the raise, my career status is gone. Then there was the rebuttal. “If you are a ‘25 percenter,’ you are a good teacher. You would have nothing to worry about.”

Nothing to worry about? Here are just a few things: This four-year plan to increase my salary is funded for one year. So I am guaranteed a salary increase of $500 if I am a “25 percenter.” What happens when it’s determined the money is just not there to fund this all the way through – as is what happened with our ABC bonuses? If my raise is not funded, do I get my career status back? Does my salary drop back to what it was?

“Well, you could opt out,” they say. Who is ever asked whether she wants to opt out of a raise? And where does the money go if I say no? It has been confirmed that it’s not going to the colleague next in line. Then what happens if career status is not eliminated in 2018? Do I get it back? Or do I have to earn it back since I gave it up?

Nothing to worry about.

Finally, there is the money. Our daughter is going to college in three years. An increase in salary, no matter what size, can only help. When has the possibility of increasing one’s salary ever been this mind-boggling? If I am a “25 percenter,” do I take it for my family? Do I decline it to stand with the thousands of teachers who will get nothing? If I decline, would it really make a difference or would I be throwing money away? Will I be looked down upon as one who betrayed her colleagues if I take it?

Worry and unanswered questions over a possible raise keep me up at night. Unfortunately, I don’t know what I’ll do if I am a 25 percenter, but I have a hope. I hope I am not in the top 25 percent.

Dyane Barnett of Cary is a Wake County public school teacher.

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