Southwest Wake News

Wake commissioners may ask state to raise teacher pay

The Wake County Board of Commissioners is facing a new call to back raising pay for teachers, but this time from their own staff.

County staff recommended Monday that commissioners include urging the General Assembly to raise teacher pay as one of this year’s legislative lobbying goals. The call comes the same day that a legislative task force recommended overhauling teacher compensation in North Carolina.

“We feel that teacher pay is an important issue and something that the state needs to address,” Denise Foreman, assistant to the Wake County manager, told commissioners. “We propose that as a local legislative goal, to support legislation that provides public school teachers with an increase in base pay.”

The recommendation comes after Wake Superintendent Jim Merrill unveiled a budget proposal last month asking that the commissioners fund a 3.5 percent pay raise for all school employees, including teachers. While the state provides most of the money for teacher salaries, Merrill said the county needs to pick up the slack after years of state salary freezes.

Merrill’s long-term goal is to raise Wake’s average teacher salary of $45,512 to the national average of $56,383 – an increase he said would require an additional $130 million in local dollars by 2020.

Commissioners won’t officially begin dealing with Merrill’s proposal until after the school board completes the budget next month. In the meantime, commissioners will discuss this year’s legislative goals April 21.

There was little initial discussion of Foreman’s proposal as commissioners were rushing to end the meeting to attend a reception for new County Manager Jim Hartmann, who was sworn into office Monday.

“That’s a state issue,” said Commissioner Paul Coble, a Republican, of the proposal after the meeting.

Phil Matthews, the Republican chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said after the meeting that he first wanted to see what the legislative task force recommended.

The legislature’s Educator Effectiveness and Compensation Task Force released a report saying, in the short term, salaries should be increased significantly for teachers with less than 10 years’ experience. Increasing all salaries is a long-term goal. Gov. Pat McCrory and legislative leaders already have committed to raise the salary floor to $35,000.

The task force also asks the legislature to direct the State Board of Education to develop a detailed proposal. North Carolina ranks 46th nationally in average teacher pay.

Commissioner James West, a Democrat, agreed that increasing teacher pay should be on the legislative agenda. He also said that the commissioners should see how much of Merrill’s proposed pay can be provided this year.

“We need to show the teachers in Wake County that we truly believe in them,” West said in an interview.

Kevin Leonard, deputy director of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, warned Wake commissioners Monday that the state’s revenue picture to support teacher pay raises is “fuzzy.” He noted that revenue projections are down and Medicaid costs are up.

“There’s going to be some significant pressures on revenue,” he said.

Leonard wants Wake to back the association’s legislative goals, which include restoring to state law a previous standard that 40 percent of the N.C. Education Lottery proceeds should go to school construction.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.