News-Star: Community

State raises for teachers will require more local dollars

Johnston school leaders will likely have to find hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover local pay obligations stemming from state raises for teachers.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Ed Croom said his staff is still analyzing the impact that state raises will have on that part of the Johnston school budget paid with county tax dollars. The schools employ some teachers with county dollars and, by law, must match the state raise. Also, the schools pay salary supplements with local dollars.

Croom told school board members at their regular meeting on Tuesday that he will return in September with more-solid numbers and options for how to make up the difference.

But based on early estimates, the school system says it will need $214,644 to award raises to teachers paid with county dollars.

It’s unclear how much money the schools will need for raises for teachers paid with certain state and federal dollars. Those pools of dollars might not cover the pay increases, explained Tracey Peedin Jones, the school system’s spokeswoman.

Johnston will also need about $462,560 more for teacher supplements. Like most other counties, Johnston supplements what the state pays its teachers, and because the Johnston supplements are a percentage of state pay, they rise whenever the state raises teacher pay.

Peedin Jones said the estimated local increases from the pay hikes are equivalent to about 12 teaching positions.

The state pay raises, approved by the General Assembly earlier this month, will range from 0.3 percent for teachers with 30 years experience to 18.5 percent for teachers with five and six years of experience. And compared to the old pay schedule, which had 37 salary levels, or steps, the new plan has six steps, with the last step topping out at $50,000 for a teacher with 25 years of experience. Those with 30 years’ experience will get a $1,000 bonus on top of the previous year’s total compensation.

Longevity pay, or the annual bonus for employees who have worked for 10 years or more, is now rolled into regular paychecks.

“For the most part, it’s a very good budget for public education, especially in regards to teachers,” Croom said during the school board meeting.

Rich Nixon, who teaches social studies at Corinth Holders High School, agreed that it’s a good plan for younger teachers, who will get the highest-percentage raises. But for teachers like him, who have more than 30 years of experience, the formula doesn’t seem as fair, he said.

Nixon, who is president of the Johnston County Association of Educators, said if not for a hold-harmless provision in the budget, he would actually make about $4,000 less this school year. The provision prevents teachers from making less than they did last year.

“The raise is somewhat misleading,” Nixon said. “It’s not really a raise. It’s paying someone what they should have been paid.”

The state gave teachers a 1.2 percent across-the-board pay raise in 2012, the only other pay hike since the recession.

And some teachers, including Nixon, complain that salaries in the new plan are lower in many cases than the pay levels in the pre-recession salary schedule from 2008. Because of the recession, the General Assembly froze step increases on the salary ladder. Had the state not frozen those annual increases, many teachers today would be earning more than they will earn with the new raise.

Nixon said the raises are a stop-gap measure, and he thought a long-term program would have been a better solution.

School board chairman Larry Strickland said the new pay schedule is a good starting place, but he is concerned about the smaller percentage increase for more-experienced teachers.

“We don’t want to lose those teachers to adjoining counties,” Strickland said. “They have been with us a long time, and we want to reward those people.”

Other early estimates based on the new state budget show the school system will get $90,000 less for transportation, $32,000 less for central office salaries and $200,000 less in funding to serve at-risk students.

“We’re trying to figure it all out,” Croom said.