Teacher salary bump leaves some in Lee wanting more

Said to be a good start, but most experienced left out
Feb. 12, 2014 @ 04:47 PM

Local teachers and school officials are responding with mixed feelings to the news that the state will likely raise the salary for beginning teachers by nearly 14 percent over the next two years.

In the 2012-13 school year, North Carolina teachers were among the lowest paid in the country. This move — announced by Gov. Pat McCrory and other state Republican leaders Monday — would increase the salary of all teachers with fewer than 10 years of experience to $35,000 by the 2015-16 school year.

Now, teachers with zero to nine years of experience make between $30,800 and $34,450. Teachers with 10 years or more would not be in store for any raises from the state under the newly announced plan.

If the General Assembly approves the raise this summer, bolstered by support from both House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, North Carolina beginning teacher pay would be just below the national average.

Dr. Lynn Smith, chairman of the Lee County Board of Education, said teachers have been in dire need of a raise for years and that this proposed raise is a good start. However, he said, he's worried that with the raises in place, a teacher on his or her first day will earn $35,000 while a teacher with 10 years of experience will earn just barely more, $35,800.

"I think it's horribly unfair," Smith said of excluding veteran teachers. "... I think we need to do it across if the board if we are going to do it. To play one group of teachers against another is just not fair."

About half of all teachers in Lee County Schools last year had fewer than 10 years of experience and would benefit from the planned raises. But like Smith, not all of them are 100 percent on board with the governor's plan.

Allison Lyerly, a kindergarten teacher at Tramway Elementary School, has been a teacher for four years. She has never received a raise, so she said she was excited to hear that her salary could soon be getting a major bump. But she said she's also worried about tensions this might cause between those who get raises and those who don't.

"We work together," Lyerly said. "So I'm excited for myself, but I work with a lot of veteran teachers, and we're a very close team. We all deserve a raise."

Plus, state officials still plan to go through on plans to eliminate teacher tenure and will only scale back partially on plans to eliminate extra pay for teachers with a master's degree. With all that in mind, Lyerly said, she's definitely not satisfied with the direction the state is headed.

"I think a lot more could be done," she said. "The master's was something I was potentially wanting to do, but at what cost? There's no incentive."

A teacher with only a bachelor's degree must work 21 years before making the same as the average pay for all other state employees, which is $42,728. With the master's degree supplement, that wait is cut to 14 years. But state leaders plan to amend the program so that anyone who receives a master's but started the degree after the cutoff date last year won't receive the supplement.

Joining Smith and Lyerly in wanting more was Superintendent Andy Bryan, who wondered why experienced teachers — let alone other employees, like teaching assistants or custodians — couldn't get raises as well.

"It's an important first step, but more needs to be done," Bryan said. "As a district, we are concerned about how more experienced teachers and other staff members might interpret this message. I actually talked to one experienced teacher (Tuesday) morning who asked me, 'What have I done wrong?' We're also concerned about the exodus of more experienced teachers that might happen from North Carolina."

Because of those concerns, Bryan said, he will continue to hope the school board does follow through on plans to officially request a 1 percent raise to the local supplement that teachers and other staff receive.

At a recent joint meeting with the Lee County Commissioners, who would fund such a raise, Bryan and school board members discussed the possibility of raising supplements for teachers from 7 percent to 8 percent, and for other staff from 1 percent to 2 percent. Those local supplements were last raised in 2005.