Legislators say they will work to raise teacher pay this year

04/11/2014 12:00 AM

04/10/2014 3:14 PM

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers from Wake County told educators Wednesday that they would try to address concerns about teacher pay during this year’s legislative session.

Teachers have complained about low pay, the elimination of tenure, and eliminating extra pay for advanced degrees.

While legislators who attended a town hall meeting Wednesday sponsored by the Wake County chapter of the N.C. Association of Educators were short on specifics, they said they would focus on raising teachers’ salaries.

“There will be a plan on seeing that teachers get more money,” said Rep. Chris Malone, a Wake Forest Republican. “Whatever that plan is, I’m going to vote for it.”

Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat, pledged the support of the Democratic Caucus to increasing teacher salaries. Blue said, however, he also needs the support of Gov. Pat McCrory and eight Republican senators to make it happen.

McCrory has proposed raising the salaries of beginning teachers, but his plan has drawn complaints from some veteran educators. They say it will result in new teachers making more money than those with experience.

“I cannot imagine the legislature passing a plan that would pay a fifth-year teacher more than a seventh-year teacher,” said Rep. Darren Jackson, a Knightdale Democrat. “That was probably some type of oversight. That will be corrected.”

Many also have complained that teachers who earn a master’s degree after this spring would no longer be entitled to extra pay. Malone said Republican legislators plan to address the master’s pay issue during the short session.

“We are going to bring it back,” he said. “To what degree, I don’t know. Exactly what the parameters are going to be is still a matter of question.”

Marcia Timmel, a teacher at North Garner Middle School, said some of her younger colleagues are on public assistance. North Carolina ranks 46th in the nation in average teacher pay and 48th in beginning teacher pay, according to the National Education Association.

“How do you justify funding public education by forcing teachers to go on public welfare?” she asked.

Jeff Greiner, a teacher at Martin Middle School in Raleigh, pointed to all the changes that have occurred since he moved from Nebraska six years ago, such as pay freezes and increasing class sizes.

“If I did the same research today, I would have stayed in the Midwest,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here.”

The legislators also talked about changes in other areas.

Rep. Tom Murry, a Morrisville Republican, acknowledged concerns about implementation of the state’s new Read to Achieve program, which warns that third-grade students who fail the state’s reading exam are at risk of attending summer camps.

“We’re going to fix Read to Achieve, and we’re listening to you,” he said.

In some areas, there was a clear disagreement between teachers and at least some of the lawmakers.

Debbie Swift, a teacher at Davis Drive Middle School in Cary, said 32 students is the smallest class she has this school year. There are no longer state class-size limits in grades four-12.

“When people in Raleigh make decisions saying class size doesn’t matter, that tells me that they are out of touch,” she said.

But Murry said it could cost at least an additional $2 billion and require raising taxes to get class sizes down, something he said could hurt the economy. Blue said he disagreed with Murry.

“If you take a billion dollars out of the economy through taxation, there’s less people working, unemployment rates shoot up, and we just have more challenges and pressure on the budget,” Murry said.

The N.C. Association of Educators is holding the public forums across the state in advance of the General Assembly’s return in May. The goal is to let educators and other members of the public voice their concerns directly to legislators and for lawmakers to interact with their constituents.

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