No harm in gifts for Wake teachers

February 19, 2014 

It’s hard to tell parents they can’t offer a child’s teacher a little gift of appreciation, a token, whether it’s a gift card or even cash. Most parents understand a teacher isn’t going to give a child a pass for smacking the kid next to him in exchange for a gift card or turn a “C” into an “A” for a “World’s Best Teacher” coffee mug.

And it’s also hard to tell a teacher that all gifts are unacceptable, considering that most teachers go into their own pockets several times a year for school supplies not covered by the system and for extras that make classrooms more inviting and interesting to children.

Still, it’s appropriate that the Wake County school system is considering fine-tuning its gift policy, which bans cash and limits presents to things of “insubstantial value.” School board Chairwoman Christine Kushner said during a recent board meeting that aim isn’t to discourage gifts, but to make the gift-giving guidelines clearer so parents don’t hold back out of confusion over what type of gifts are allowed.

“We are trying to clarify the policy across the system so that parents and community members wishing to show their appreciation for our wonderful teachers can do so in a generous and meaningful manner,” she said.

Despite the system’s attempts to keep schools economically diverse, allowing unlimited gifts would likely mean teachers in schools with higher-income parents would receive far more money than teachers in schools with less-affluent parents. It’s an unfair situation best avoided. The school board should propose a modest limit on gift cards, with the same value limit put on tangible gifts.

Lift the pay rate

Banning gifts altogether would do nothing but punish teachers. And parents don’t offer gifts just out of appreciation. Many recognize that North Carolina’s teachers are woefully underpaid, 46th in the country at last count. Gifts are not going to raise that ranking, but that gift card might mean a teacher can buy special markers or paper or illustrations with money not from his or her wallet.

And what really needs to happen is what former Gov. Jim Hunt, education’s champion, said recently, hitting a theme he has never abandoned: Raise North Carolina teachers’ pay to the national average, period. Make the promise, find the money and do it.

Hunt did. And Gov. Pat McCrory can, too. That means going beyond his promise to raise the salaries of starting and early-career teachers. The governor says he has a plan to address pay increases for other teachers as well, but details on that are yet to come.

GOP acts on pay

The state’s teachers are struggling. By indications from state officials, many are leaving the profession early or going to other states to find better-paying work. There is no question that a shortage looms.

The governor and the General Assembly can give underpaid teachers a gift: Quit using teachers as a political target, which is what GOP leaders have done since members of the N.C. Association of Educators vocally objected to cuts in public education.

It’s clear, considering what seems to be support for raises from the governor and from Republican legislative leaders, that they’ve gotten negative responses to their attacks on teachers and their anemic education budget, and they want to try to turn things around in advance of the elections this year.

Whatever the motivation, the plan to raise the $30,000 pay for professionals starting their careers in teaching is welcome, but it certainly needs follow-up with raises for experienced teachers with the goal of getting teachers’ pay back to the national average.

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