McCrory's $21B budget proposal raises NC teacher pay, cuts from universities

lbonner@newsobserver.comMay 14, 2014 

Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed $21 billion budget Tuesday includes $262.9 million for the raises he’s promised teachers and state employees, but cuts about $49 million that would go to the UNC system and takes more than $122 million from proposed spending on health and human services.

Teacher raises have been the most talked-about portion of the budget proposal, and were a focus of an N.C. Association of Educators’ rally for teachers Tuesday, the first day of the legislative “short session.”

McCrory’s proposal shaves about $8 million from the total spending approved for the 12 months beginning July 1 – the second year of the state’s two year budget – but is about $360 million, or 1.7 percent higher than the current budget.

Legislative leaders also support teacher and state employee raises. They have agreed to the plan to raise teacher’s minimum pay to $35,000 over two years, but have not signed on to McCrory’s proposal for broader teacher and state employee pay hikes. Legislative budget writers will begin their public deliberations Thursday. Although legislators have other items on their agendas, their main purpose for returning to Raleigh is to adjust the budget approved last year.

“We appreciate Gov. McCrory’s leadership in crafting a balanced budget proposal that prioritizes increasing teacher pay and developing our domestic energy sector without raising taxes,” Senate leader Phil Berger said in a statement. “The Senate looks forward to reviewing the governor’s plan in greater detail as part of our appropriations process.”

Under the proposal, teachers with up to eight years experience would make $33,000 a year. The McCrory budget basically unfreezes teacher “step increases” for those who are on step eight or higher.

Teachers who move to steps 8-12 will receive increases ranging from 2.8 percent to 4.3 percent. Teachers who move to steps 13-36 will receive an average of 2 percent.

NCAE President Rodney Ellis called the raises McCrory proposed for veteran teachers inadequate, considering their pay has been frozen for five of the last six years. Ellis called paying for raises with cuts to other programs “a hunger games contest over a state budget that has already been reduced.”

Justin Ashley, a fourth grade teacher from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools who won N.C. teacher of the year honors in social studies and history last year, started to choke up when he talked about walking his son to kindergarten at an underfunded school.

Teacher pay is important, said Ashley, but it’s also important that classes aren’t so big that teachers can’t give students the attention they need.

After the legislature lifted the cap on class sizes after third grade, Ashley said his classes jumped from about 24 or 25 students to 33. He has begun applying to jobs in South Carolina, where he can make more money, because he and his wife want to be able to afford a second child.

“It’s not just about the money,” he said. “It’s about wanting to do the best for kids and being able to focus on the classroom without having to take a second job.”

State employees would receive $1,000 in salary and benefits increases: $809 would go to higher wages and the rest to retirement and longevity.

Dana Cope, head of the State Employees Association of North Carolina has called the $1,000 a “fantastic start.”

Bonner: 919-829-4821; Twitter: @Lynn_Bonner

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