McCrory says he wants long-term strategy on educator pay

jstancill@newsobserver.comMarch 5, 2014 

— Gov. Pat McCrory said Wednesday he’d like to improve salaries for all of the state’s educators eventually, including veteran teachers, community college instructors and university faculty. But he said that will depend on the state’s future revenue picture.

Immediately, he said, the focus is on raising base pay for early career teachers to $35,000 by 2016 – a plan he announced last month.

“There has been no strategy on education compensation for the last decade,” McCrory added. “It’s just been dealt with year by year, and the last five years with almost no pay raises. So part of our goal is to have a long-term strategy on how we compensate our teachers.”

Still, he cautioned, “We cannot make that commitment until we know the money is available.”

McCrory said the budget forecast isn’t even clear for the upcoming fiscal year and could be affected by higher Medicaid expenses and lower tax collections because of the recent winter storms.

The Republican governor gathered with the state’s education chiefs Wednesday in Chapel Hill to talk about budget priorities for the coming legislative short session and beyond. He heard from higher education leaders that compensation is an issue across the board.

N.C. Community College System President Scott Ralls said his instructors are in the same boat as public school teachers. He said North Carolina community college faculty rank 41st in the nation in salary, about 30 percent behind the national average and 10  percent behind Southern states.

“You don’t often hear about us, but in comparison we’re in the very same place that our public school teachers are,” he said.

Ralls said if the system kept the same level of funding next year as this year, while turning one-time money into recurring funds, the colleges could take steps to keep quality faculty.

UNC President Tom Ross said the university system is producing 8,500 additional degree earners now compared with 2007-08, yet spending 18 percent less to do it. The UNC system has sustained more than $600 million in recurring cuts during that period, he said. Part of the system’s budget request for next year includes money to keep top professors.

On maintaining quality

“We have, I think, a budget request that is reasonable and necessary if we’re going to maintain the excellent quality of the university that we have,” Ross said.

Ross’ remarks followed a memo last week to the university’s Board of Governors from state Budget Director Art Pope, who said the university’s budget request was unrealistic. He asked the board to come back with a smaller request.

Ross said he looks forward to working with McCrory and his staff to figure out what’s possible and what’s not. “No one knows the revenue, so it’s really hard to shoot at a target when you don’t know exactly where it is and it’s moving,” he said.

McCrory said he wants to loosen state personnel rules to make it easier to transfer employees, combine jobs and better compensate those who are in market-driven jobs.

“The flexibility to move people is very, very limited,” McCrory said.

One looming issue in 2015 will be the impact of the Affordable Care Act on the state’s coffers because of mandates to cover part-timers who work at least 30 hours a week.

There are 8,600 such employees in the UNC system alone, but it is too soon to estimate the extent of the financial hit.

McCrory’s education team will soon embark on a three-year coordinated plan for education, including milestones and budget projections. That plan is expected to be complete in October.

McCrory: Intent good

Also on Wednesday, McCrory said his team was reviewing the impact of the law that eliminates teacher tenure and directs local districts to offer raises to top teachers who give up tenure rights. On Tuesday, the Wake County school board took a stand against the law, and the Durham school board decided Wednesday to join Guilford County in a lawsuit against it.

“I think it’s an example of passing the policy without clearly understanding the execution,” McCrory said. He said he and his team are looking at possible changes that could be made.

“The intent of the rule is very good,” he said of the tenure overhaul. “The implementation process needs to be more clarified, and I think that’s maybe something we can work on between now and the short session.”

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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