Republican Wake commissioners should have done more for teachers

June 17, 2014 

Many teachers were not optimistic as Wake County commissioners were preparing to consider their budget this week. There were at one time some hopes that school Superintendent Jim Merrill would succeed in getting an extra $29 million to provide a pay boost for teachers, but in the end, commissioners approved only a $200 to $300 increase in the county’s $6,000-plus supplement for teachers. (The state pays base salaries.)

The rationale for not boosting property taxes a tiny bit more was a familiar refrain. Republicans on the board, the same gang that opposes allowing voters to decide on new transit options, weren’t going to do anything more for teachers if it required even a small tax hike. They did approve a property tax increase to pay for a school building program, but there wasn’t much choice there: Voters had approved the program as part of a school bond last fall.

With all GOP seats on the board up for election, and with Democrats putting up progressive candidates who favor, for example, giving the public a say on a transit tax, the commissioners’ majority seemed to be making a foolish practical as well as political choice here.

Their Republican mates in the General Assembly, after all, now are advocating different versions of a teacher pay hike after bashing public education for a couple of years. Why the change? It’s likely because most people in North Carolina send their children to public schools and like them. GOP legislators didn’t like the feedback they were getting from those people.

It’s true that Wake County already pays a good supplement to teachers, relatively speaking of course, in a state where teacher pay is a disgraceful 48th in the country. But this affluent county can and should do more, particularly since it has seen over 600 resignations of teachers this school year. Those teachers cite different reasons, but the need to support themselves and their families is first among them, and there are simply other opportunities they can’t turn down, no matter how much they love teaching. And it should be noted that while Wake does pay one of the larger supplements in the state, it also has a higher cost of living than do many other cities and towns.

Democratic Commissioner Caroline Sullivan, who supports doing more for teachers, seems to be getting rightly aggressive with her colleagues on the board. She wants the board to consider a quarter-cent sales tax increase, which would have to be approved by voters, to supplement teacher pay. Republicans show no signs of bending, but an upcoming election has a way of changing things. And voters in this county traditionally have backed money for public schools.

If Republican board members want to stake their political futures on their stubborn stance about teacher pay, so be it. But it sounds risky.

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