McCrory wants ambitious teacher salary overhaul

The Associated Press

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GREENSBORO — Gov. Pat McCrory said Wednesday he’s found money for pay raises for all teachers and state employees next year, even with an unexpected revenue shortfall this year.

He also unveiled a long-term plan to overhaul teacher compensation he says will better reward the best educators in schools without them having to leave the classrooms to get paid more.

“This is all about students and attracting the best teachers we can to help the students,” he said in a speech at North Carolina A&T State University. “This plan encourages and rewards teachers who make the most out of their career and ensures that every student has the chance to fulfill their potential.”

In making the announcements, the Republican governor brought to Greensboro local superintendents and business leaders in support of the proposals he said should make it more attractive for teachers to remain in the profession. North Carolina teachers have received one pay raise since 2008, dropping the average pay to 46th among the states and the District of Columbia.

In the short term, McCrory said his recommendations to legislators next week to adjust the two-year budget would give an average 2 percent raise to all veteran teachers. That’s above and beyond a February agreement with lawmakers to raise the starting base pay for early-career teachers to $33,000 for this coming fall.

The immediate teacher salary increases, along with a proposed flat $1,000 raise for all state employees, would cost $265 million for the year starting July 1, state budget director Art Pope told reporters.

The proposed raises come less than a week after state officials projected a $445 million shortfall for the current fiscal year. The downgraded revenues also mean $191 million less for revenues next year. Next year’s Medicaid budget also might have to be increased by an additional $192 million, according to a memo from General Assembly researchers.

Pope and McCrory didn’t give details Wednesday about how they would pay for the increases, except to say that there is more than $600 million in unspent funds to close this year’s shortfall and that tough decisions are being made on the budget adjustments they’re unveiling next week.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly will have to approve any budget changes or salary schedule overhaul.

While state House Republicans shared the stage with McCrory, legislative leaders playing key roles in the passage of any plan didn’t attend Wednesday’s announcement.

House Speaker Thom Tillis, who won Tuesday’s Republican U.S. Senate primary, said in a release raising state employee and teacher pay is a top priority this year. A spokeswoman for Senate leader Phil Berger said senators also were interested in learning how he plans to fund the expanded salaries.

Democratic legislative leaders blasted the plan for failing to move teacher salaries toward the national average and criticized Republicans for recent education cuts and tax rate reductions they say harmed teachers. “Our students and teachers deserve more than election year rhetoric and short-term Band-Aids,” said House Minority Leader Larry Hall, D-Durham, in a release. North Carolina Association of Educators Vice President Mark Jewell said a 2 percent raise was inadequate but was glad to see McCrory was looking at an overhaul of the teacher pay schedule.

McCrory’s long-term proposal, which would be fully implemented by 2018, consolidates the current 36-step experience-based teacher salary schedule down to six, with base salaries ranging from $35,000 to $50,000. Teachers could then receive extra pay if they work in hard-to-staff schools or subjects. Raises would remain for teachers who are nationally certified or who have advanced degrees in the subject field in which they teach.

Salary upgrades of at least 10 percent or 25 percent ultimately would be available for teachers rated “highly effective” or considered team leaders. School districts would experiment for the next two years on what these so-called career pathways would look like.