Teacher pay a concern with budget
By all accounts, one thing that won't change in the 2013-14 state budget is teacher pay.
In fact, it will basically remain the same as it has for the last five years — with teachers only seeing a 1 percent increase in pay over that time.
Additionally, the state budget also calls for an end to tenure — or career status — and replacing it with teacher contracts renewable based on certain performance measures.
Also gone is supplemental pay for teachers with advanced degrees, with the exception of those positions that require such a degree.
"The majority of teachers I've talked with say it is a sad state of affairs regarding the future of our profession," said Sue Collin, eighth grade English teacher at R-S Middle School. "If this is the pattern we're going to be taking now with what's going on in Raleigh, it will be difficult in the future to recruit new teachers."
Long time East Rutherford High School social studies teacher Lisa Harris Bralley took to Facebook to register her thoughts on the budget proposal.
"When we feed business and the economy, yes, hopefully it will grow. However, when we wipe out it's vital underpinning, quality schools which provide a competitive, educated work force, we can sit back and watch our economic viability crumble," Bralley said.
She said Wednesday afternoon she will "absolutely" retire at the end of the next school year.
"There is no doubt," Bralley said. "I love teaching and I love the kids. But it is more than time to go in this climate. Absolutely no way I'm going to stay."
While exact figures on the impact of the state's budget on Rutherford County Schools (RCS) isn't known by officials, one thing is if those measures hold true, it could spell danger for the system.
"That puts border counties like Rutherford County in serious competition with states like South Carolina," said John Mark Bennett, president of the RCS Board of Education. "That is a big concern for me."
According to national data, North Carolina ranks 44th in the nation in average teacher pay. Neighboring South Carolina is in the bottom half but still higher than North Carolina at 36th. Conversely, Tennessee is 27th in average pay.
"Teachers, as they are looking for a job, if they want to live in this area and we are not competitive with neighboring states, it certainly is a negative thing for us," Bennett said.
According to the North Carolina Public School Salary Schedules for 2012-13 the starting salary for a beginning teacher with a bachelor's degree is $30,800. Teachers with a master's degree earn $33,880 in their first two years in the classroom. Upon receiving National Board for Professional Teacher Standards certification, salaries get a bump of approximately $4,000 yearly.
The overall average pay for teachers in North Carolina is just over $46,000.
Just across the border in South Carolina, teachers in Cherokee County earn a starting pay of $33,110. South Carolina does not offer increased pay for advanced degrees.
In South Carolina, the average pay is $47,000. Tennessee, while having a higher amount, has a lower average salary than either North or South Carolina at $45,800. Georgia, on the other hand, does rank in the top 25 of teacher pay, starting with a salary of $33,600 and averaging $52,800.
It is the advanced degree pay that helps off-set the difference between the state's and their salary structure.
"We always have to watch it but when they talk about no raises and taking away pay raises for advanced degrees, that creates an even bigger concern," Bennett said.
Bennett said there is nothing wrong with having high expectations of teachers but those expectations "have to come with higher compensation."
"If I were a teacher I would feel like they were kicking me in the teeth with this," Bennett said. "Sure we want to pay teachers well and we need to show them, through their pay, we value the work they do. We expect a lot out of them."
Another blow to teachers is a cut in funding for teacher assistants. Under the state proposal, funding for teacher assistants will be reduced by 21 percent.
"The thing that's even a little more bothersome is, in previous years we have talked about making cuts due to a poor economy," Bennett said. "Now, we are making cuts at the same time we are funding other ventures like school vouchers and that is very tough to swallow."
While the exact numbers are yet to be determined, Bennett said RCS will "offset the impact as best we can."
"We got into this profession because we wanted better education for the students … we wanted the best and this is not the best," Collin said.
Jean Gordon contributed to this report