Educators back McCrory plan

Proposal ‘step in the right direction’
May. 07, 2014 @ 10:08 PM

After his last plan for raising teacher pay was received less than enthusiastically, Gov. Pat McCrory announced further steps Wednesday to bolster funding for education in North Carolina — news that was deemed a positive development locally.

His new message was much more popular in education circles than the initial one, receiving warm praise from the Democratic head of the Department of Public Instruction as well as many district-level superintendents. The new plan is called Career Pathways for Teachers and seeks to give teachers incentives “to remain in the classroom instead of leaving to earn more income as an administrator or by abandoning the profession,” McCrory said in his announcement.

Lee County Schools Superintendent Andy Bryan said the announcement was welcome news because concern over low pay is “an issue and a theme that I’ve certainly heard all year from teachers and from all educational employees.”

Bryan added: “Even though the details sort of need to be filled in, I think the governor’s pay plan for teachers seems to be a step in the right direction. I believe the governor has recognized that education is important to North Carolina.”

McCrory’s announcement covered a number of proposed changes on top of his previous pledge to raise beginning teacher pay to $35,000 by 2015, which had been criticized for not doing anything for the majority of teachers.

So on Wednesday, McCrory announced he will push the General Assembly to approve 2 percent raises for all teachers — and a $1,000 raise for all other state employees — as well as a plan to give teachers with advanced degrees in their subjects an additional 10 percent raise.

He also suggested restoring pay for teachers who mentor less-experienced colleagues or who teach in what their local district considers high-need subject areas or high-need schools.

“For years, teachers have suffered through little to no pay raises as the state had to endure one of the toughest economic recessions in generations,” McCrory said. “The Career Pathways for Teachers framework reverses that trend with modest raises in the short term, and a meaningful, long-term plan that empowers teachers to determine their own financial future while at the same time giving local school districts the flexibility to address the most pressing needs of their students and community.”

Vickie Wilkins, a Southern Lee High School teacher and president of the local N.C. Association of Educators chapter, said she was especially excited about the plans to restore mentor pay. She said some teachers have continued in the program — even with all its extra meetings, training and paperwork — despite the bonuses having been cut, and they deserve compensation.

“It’s a large responsibility to take on,” she said.

Bryan said he hopes the General Assembly will get on board with McCrory’s plan and doesn’t pay for it by cutting education in other areas.

The governor himself also called for increased funding in other areas, including for textbooks and early childhood education. He also spoke of the need for districts to move toward digital textbooks.

Lee County Schools already has adopted digital textbooks for some classes, although the district did slash funding for textbooks and other supplies to preserve teaching assistant jobs after both the state and the county cut funding for teaching assistants.

Wilkins cited budget cuts like those and said the state can and should do more to restore past funding before she believes leaders truly care about educators.

“I’m excited, and yet at the same time I’m looking at the big picture,” she said. “And it’s not just the cuts to the public school system, but also the university system and the community college system.”

As for funding the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars a year McCrory’s proposals could cost the state, several options have been proposed. None involve raising taxes, a key tenet of the Republican-led legislature.

A new pro-teacher vanity license plate would help with funding, according to a separate announcement from Lt. Gov. Dan Forrest, and people also will have the option to donate all or part of their state income tax rebates to an endowment to pay for teachers’ raises. The endowment also would be funded by tax-exempt donations from individuals and businesses.