Teacher raises would cost DPS

Feb. 22, 2014 @ 06:59 PM

Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed gift to early-career teachers in the form of a pay increase could prove costly for Durham Public Schools.
Aaron Beaulieu, the school district’s chief financial officer, told the school board last week that the pay raise for those teachers with zero to nine years of experience could eventually cost the school district as much as $1.4 million.
“We’re 100 percent behind our lower-paid teachers getting more competitive wages and being risen to the national average,” Beaulieu said. “Most districts need to understand that the majority of that percentage is not coming from the state, it’s coming a lot of times as a local cost.” 
DPS would see the added expense, Beaulieu said, because many of its early-career teachers, those with the lower salaries, are paid out of local funds while the district pays its more experienced teacher, those with higher salaries, out of its state appropriation. 
So, to match the governor’s proposed pay increase for early-career teachers and to also make adjustments to local teacher pay supplements, the district would have to dig deeper into its local appropriation.
“As great as the governor was to teachers, it equates to costing us about 25 teachers across the district if we didn’t have the money to pick it [the extra cost] up,” Beaulieu said.
Beaulieu stressed that the figures provided about the potential impact the governor’s proposal would have on the school district are all preliminary.
He said the district will continue to refine them as the governor’s plan moves forward.
Under McCrory’s proposal, teachers with a bachelor’s degree and zero to five years of experience would see a bump in pay from $30,800 to $35,000 over a two-year period.
All teachers with up to nine years’ experience who earn less than $35,000 would also see their pay increased to that amount.
Beaulieu said about 500 of the DPS’s nearly 2,000 teachers are paid from local funds.
McCrory’s plan would affect more than 42,500 teachers across the state.
The governor’s proposal has been criticized in some quarters because it does not provide a pay increase for veteran teachers.
And one critic in Durham has called it a political ploy intended to give state Republicans an edge in the November General Election.
“The polls show that North Carolinians favor fair pay for teachers,” Kathy McCullen, a librarian at Parkwood Elementary School and an 11-year veteran of the classroom, said at a recent rally to protest a state law ending teacher tenure. “McCrory’s plan is about limiting the damage to his party in the November election.”
Meanwhile, the discussion about the impact of the proposed teacher pay raise on DPS’s budget took place as part of a larger conversation this week about the district’s budget for the 2014-15 academic year.
Beaulieu said the additional money to increase pay for early-career teachers along with other growing expenses will put a lot of pressure on the district’s budget this year.
“When we talk about utility costs, when we talk about this salary increase, when we talk about receiving no new money, we’ve probably identified somewhere close to $3 million or $4 million worth of expenses that will come in the tune of salary increases, benefit increases, utility increases, contractual custodial [increases],” Beaulieu said.   
He said the school district will likely have to rely on its fund balance to fill the budget gap.
“What we’re saying is that as we continue to document our budget, it’s probably going to be another year where we have to rely on our fund balance to get us through another budget year,” Beaulieu said.
DPS’s unassigned fund balance is flush with more than $19 million, thanks to missteps that cost former Superintendent Eric Becoats his job.