Battle lines are being drawn to portray support for the new Wake County school budget as being synonymous with supporting teachers.
As noted in today’s article, school board members, school administrators and the speakers at Tuesday’s budget public hearing repeatedly said teachers are so underpaid that a 3.5 percent pay raise is needed. If the Wake County Board of Commissioners don’t approve the $39.3 million increase proposed by Superintendent Jim Merrill, $29 million of which would go toward the raises, you could hear this being brought up between now and the elections in November.
“I would like for us to set our sights on having highly paid effective teachers in our district,” school board chairwoman Christine Kushner said during board comments. “Our children deserve effective teachers. We have about 10,000 teachers in Wake County and as John Merrow says, ‘Teachers are the other 1 percent.’ They are the one percent that are truly the job builders because they’re educating our students. And we need to make sure that we have the best and brightest in Wake County.
Dr. Merrill sets a five-year goal to have the highest local support in our state for our school system and that our teachers will be paid the national average in five years. We need community support for these five-year goals, which begin with this budget. We need parents and the community to support our teachers and our students, so on behalf of our board I ask you for that support."
School board member Jim Martin said he wanted to affirm Kushner’s budget comments.
"While this isn’t the budget we all might like to do things like make sure we clean our schools everyday, have teaching assistants back in all the classrooms, it’s a step very much in the right direction, particularly with teacher salaries,” Martin said. “We absolutely need community support.
School board vice chairman Tom Benton said the state’s teacher salary schedule “stinks,” citing how a teacher could only be earning $40,000 a year after 15 years of experience.
"We’re not out here just begging the government for more money,” Benton said. “We’re talking about a critical shortage of teachers and a lack of respect for the entire profession of teachers. I think from the people I’m talking to that the message is being heard out there.
I don’t know if our General Assembly will step up. I don’t know if our County Commissioners are going to step up, But I can’t understand why there’s any question that right now we’ve got to do something, somehow, some way to provide a liveable salary for our teachers that are delivering services to our students.”
School board member Susan Evans said she was “very excited about this budget.”
“I think it’s important for the public to recognize that the things that we are focusing on are the things that we know make a difference in the classroom,” Evans said. “The largest portion of the increase that we’re asking for is to support better salaries for our staff. And of course if we’re supporting our teachers better and providing for teachers to want to stay in our school district and to attract the best teachers, that ‘s going to translate into a positive effort for student achievement."
Evans also downplayed the scope of the increase. (It’s now officially a $39.3 million increase and not $39 million because the enrollment projection for this fall was increased by 273 students.)
“I want to ask the public to support this budget,” Evans said. “I want people to understand that while on the surface the fact we’re asking for a $39 million increase in local funding over the previous year, that might sound like a lot.
But when you put it in perspective, that adjusted for inflation, it‘s a nominal increase over where we were in the 2008-2009 year. It will really just get us back to where we were several years ago if you look at it on per capita basis.”