[Editor’s note: During the holidays, NC Policy Watch is taking a look back at 2014 by featuring some of our top news stories and commentaries from the past 12 months. We hope you will enjoy them and feel inspired to participate in the state policy debate in 2015.]
Last week, lawmakers passed a state budget that they promised would offer teachers an average 7 percent raise—but instead of boosting all teachers’ pay by a simple percentage, a new salary schedule is in place that offers younger, inexperienced teachers big gains while shortchanging veteran teachers who have gone to great lengths to build on their teaching credentials.
The new pay plan has many heads spinning, with teachers working hard to figure out what they will actually earn for the upcoming year, and some even wondering if they stand to see decreased earnings this fall
And how have lawmakers paid for the $282 million plan to boost teacher pay after years of frozen salaries? By cutting critical areas of classroom support.
The new teacher salary schedule
Lawmakers trashed the old 37-step teacher salary schedule for one that contains just six steps and maxes out base salaries at $50,000.
They also jettisoned the master’s degree salary schedule, instead offering straight 10 percent supplements to those who are grandfathered in—and going forward, no teacher will get a pay increase for furthering her education.
Longevity pay? That’s been coupled with the pay raises and is no longer a supplement.
“Once again teachers are being asked to give up something they’ve earned in order to get something that they should get,” said Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake), saying that longevity pay will be a thing of the past after this year.
Here’s how longevity pay is worked into the new salary schedule, according to chart released by Sen. Phil Berger’s office.
Lawmakers’ move to lump longevity pay with salaries means that the average 7 percent pay increase is not really representative of what teachers are getting on top of wages and supplemental pay to which they were already entitled.
And going forward, there’s nothing built into the salary schedule that would reward longevity. N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s CFO, Philip Price, said it’s not the first time this has happened.
“I believe they [lawmakers] got rid of longevity pay once in the 1990s, and possibly once in the 80s as well by lumping it into the salary schedule,” said Price. “Then they would reinstate it as a supplement a few years later, when people argued it was unfair for teachers to be the only employees without longevity pay supplements.”
Teachers in years one through ten stand to gain the most from the new plan, seeing pay increases next year of anywhere from 7 percent to as high as almost 19 percent. Veteran teachers, on the other hand, are looking at pay raises that are as little as 0.3 percent for someone in year 30 of her career, for example.
The pay schedule also keeps teachers’ salaries frozen for five years at a time. In year ten, a teacher’s base salary is $40,000—and it stays that way until year 15. Teachers’ base salaries max out at $50,000 per year by year 30 – which is more than $3,000 less than the highest base salary currently in place, and with no room for it to increase as the cost of living rises going forward.
The loss of earnings potential
What is causing the most confusion right now about the new salary schedule that lawmakers have put forth is the degree to which those who are National Board certified (NBCT) and have a master’s degree could potentially lose earnings over the long term.
“While actual dollars for 2014-15 may not go down for these educators, the earning potential does go down because lawmakers decoupled the National Board salary supplement from the master’s degree salary schedule,” said Elic Senter, an NCAE staffer.
Having trouble wrapping your head around that? So are educators who actually hold those credentials, not to mention the general public.
Here’s the problem: previously, teachers who had master’s degrees were on an entirely different pay schedule that was 10 percent higher than those with bachelor’s degrees. That master’s degree pay schedule is called the ‘M’ schedule, and the bachelor’s degree pay schedule is called the ‘A’ schedule.
Then, if those master’s degree-holding teachers got their National Board certification (more teachers in North Carolina than in any other state hold this credential), they got a 12 percent salary supplement on top of whatever step they were at on the M salary schedule. So someone making $40,000 would earn a total of $49,280.
But the M salary schedule is going away, since lawmakers no longer want to reward teachers who get advanced degrees with a pay increase.
Those who already have their advanced degrees or who were in the degree pipeline before August 1, 2013 will be grandfathered in, though – and that’s where things get messy.
The salary bumps for master’s degrees plus National Board certification will be calculated on the new A salary schedule, which means that someone making $40,000 would get her master’s plus NBCT supplements by adding 22 percent on top of that, for a total of $48,800, according to NCAE’s Senter.
“So you see a net loss of 1.2 percent,” said Senter.
Dr. Jim Brooks is a veteran teacher in Wilkes County who figures he stands to lose his longevity pay, despite lawmakers’ promises.
“I realize I am getting a tiny raise in terms of my base salary, but they are taking away our longevity pay this year, even though they say they are not,” said Brooks.
Brooks says he stands to gain a 0.3 percent pay raise, but won’t see the longevity pay bump of 4.3 percent this year, according to his calculations.
There is a hold harmless provision in the state budget, which means no one can earn less than the previous year. If it looks like your salary will decrease under the new plan, then you revert to last year’s salary plus a flat $1,000.
“Even if they do that, I still won’t be seeing my full longevity pay,” said Brooks.
NCAE’s Senter also says the salary fix for veteran teachers who could see their wages decline doesn’t capture the potential earnings that some could have gained for 2014—and beyond.
“While it may seem like a relatively small amount of money in one year, over time folks could see a lost earnings potential of $6-8,000,” said Senter. “That’s groceries for a year. And it will also impact how your retirement is calculated, since that’s based on the last year of your earned income.”
Gov. Pat McCrory said in a press conference on Tuesday that NCAE was perpetuating confusion about the new teacher compensation plan, and that had another party recommended the pay raises, they’d be cheering.
“We’re not misleading people, we’re putting facts on the table,” said Senter.
Cuts to the Classroom
In order to pay for the teacher pay raises, lawmakers enacted cuts to critical areas of education spending.
In a press conference last week, Gov. Pat McCrory said that the fact that this budget preserves teacher assistants jobs contributed to his decision to sign the budget bill.
But according to DPI’s Philip Price, the 2014 budget actually spends $105 million less on TAs than what was planned for the upcoming year, which means local school districts will take a 22 percent hit to their teacher assistants – on top of huge cuts to TAs over the past several years.
Winston-Salem/Forsyth schools are sifting through the 260-page budget document now, and are faced with the reality that they won’t have the money for 125 teacher assistants.
Lawmakers offered “flexibility” to school districts to handle the underfunding of TAs, which means they can move money out of classroom teacher positions that were intended to reduce class size in order to pay for the TAs they actually need.
It’s a false choice, according to Superintendent Beverly Emory.
“If it’s going to cost people their jobs, I don’t see how we can use it (for class size),” Emory told the Winston-Salem Journal on Monday.
Students lose too, in this budget.
According to data provided to him by the Fiscal Research Division, Sen. Josh Stein told fellow lawmakers the new state budget invests $330 less in each student than in 2008-09.
North Carolina currently ranks 48th in per pupil funding. “We must do better than this,” said Stein.
Cuts to TAs and per pupil funding are just a couple of the areas in which the education budget is taking a big hit to pay for teacher raises. To read more about education cuts included in the 2014 budget, head over to our blog.
Education reporter Lindsay Wagner can be reached at 919-861-1460 or firstname.lastname@example.org