Education’s a priority? Numbers suggest otherwise

Aug. 24, 2013 @ 10:44 PM

Sometimes it’s laughable when a politician talks one thing and then does the   opposite. We see it all the time, yet we seem never to stop being surprised.

Our newly elected governor would like us to believe that he’s sympathetic to the plight of educators, yet his actions indicate otherwise. If education is a priority, it’s a very low one, buried well below too many items to mention.

There’s little question that the compensation situation for North Carolina teachers is not good.  Just about every other state pays its teachers more. In some ways, it’s not as bad as we’re led to believe. In other ways, it’s worse.

Let’s take the "not as bad" first. In 2008, teachers received a modest raise, at a time when many in private industry had frozen wages or, worse yet, were suffering through furloughs.

The next three years, teachers were stuck at the 2008 pay rate.  In 2011, teachers were awarded a 1 percent increase in pay, an amount so miniscule that they likely did not see much change in their paycheck. Since 2012, there’s nothing but a pay freeze.

The context here is as important as the facts. The economic situation for North Carolinians is more severe than in most states. Teachers shared in the hardship, right along with their friends and neighbors who are not in the profession.

What makes things worse, however, is what happened to those at the bottom of the pay scale.

As recently as 2008, a teacher would receive a bump in pay with the completion of his first year of teaching. That would continue through 30 years of service.  There are a lot of wrong salary numbers out there for teachers, but the current scale indicates that the starting teacher earns $30,000 and change.

What changed in 2008 is that a teacher with one year of experience remained at the starting teacher pay rate, thus forfeiting an increase after the first year.

The legislature and governor evidently thought they were pretty shrewd and tightened their fists even more in 2010, making teachers who completed two years of teaching remain at the same starting pay point.

The strategy then spread down through the schedule. Effective with the 2012-2013 school year, teachers with no experience through two years of experience were at the state minimum. A second cluster bracket then was developed for teachers with three or four years of experience, lumping them together at the three-year rate. With the new schedule just approved by the legislature, the three and four year teacher pay rate now includes five-year teachers.

A teacher with 10 years of classroom experience currently earns about $3,000 less than seven years ago. It now takes 36 years to get to the top pay rate, instead of 31 years just a few years ago. Pretty good sleight of hand. Every step below the clustered steps ends up with less income than before. So in spite of a 1 percent increase sandwiched between pay freezes, the teachers moved backwards in pay.

Before anyone gets too excited about the current regime pulling another quick one, the practice was started by the opposition.

So it’s safe to say that education doesn’t have a friend in Republicans or Democrats. Yep, we’re all for education in North Carolina.

Rick Bean is publisher of The Herald-Sun. You can reach him at 919-419-6501 or rbean@heraldsun.com.