The first full state budget since 2017 was signed into law last Thursday by Gov. Roy Cooper, and among other things, allocates hundreds of millions of dollars to increase educator compensation pay over the next two years.
The compromise budget was passed after nearly two months of negotiations, with projected spending of $25.9 billion in the current fiscal year, which started July 1, and $27 billion in the 2022-23. The budget cuts individual income taxes, starts phasing out the state’s corporate income tax and includes average raises of 5% over two years for teachers and other state employees.
“This budget moves North Carolina forward in important ways,” Cooper said in a statement Thursday. “Funding for high speed internet, our universities and community colleges, clean air and drinking water and desperately needed pay increases for teachers and state employees are all critical for our state to emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever. I will continue to fight for progress where this budget falls short but believe that, on balance, it is an important step in the right direction.”
Bonuses and raises taking effect from July 1 could be given to state employees by January or earlier, a legislative staffer told reporters.
While lawmakers are publicizing average 5% pay raises over the next two years, many teachers are frustrated, due to the fact that the raise in base pay this year amounts to about $50 to $65 a month. North Carolina ranks 30th in the nation for teacher pay, not including pay for other school employees like cafeteria workers, janitors, instructional assistants and bus drivers. (Minimum wage for school staff will rise to $13 an hour this school year, under the budget, and then to $15 an hour next fall.)
Northwood High School teacher Edward Walgate said lawmakers prioritized tax cuts over “proper investment in schools” in the new budget.
“I’m very disappointed by this budget,” he said. “After three years without a raise, school staff won’t even get raises that keep up with inflation. And after the extremely challenging 18 months we’ve just had, there is no mention of extra teachers’ assistants and other personnel that will help our students catch up on learning loss.
“I urge our local school system to do more to make up for the meager provisions in this budget.”
School employees are eligible for bonuses — up to $2,800 for teachers — but those are temporary. Here are the bonuses school staff are eligible for:
• $1,500 bonus for state employees with salaries under $75,000, which most teachers and staff will be eligible for. Any school employees with salaries above $75,000 will receive a $1,000 bonus.
• $1,000 bonus to teachers and instructional support personnel who have participated in one or more trainings between March 2020 and Jan. 1, 2022, covering COVID-19 mitigation strategies, virtual instruction or learning loss.
• $300 bonus to all teachers
The average 5% pay raise over two years includes annual step increases on the teacher salary schedule most teachers receive for each extra year of service. The 2.5% annual raise breaks down to a 1.3% bump in base salary each year, and an annual step increase for teachers with 15 years or less of service amounting to about a 1.2% raise.
For Northwood teacher Eliza Brinkley, who has been teaching for four years, those increases amount to about an extra $940 each year. Veteran teachers with more than 15 years in education are only eligible for the 1.3% raise.
“Yes, we get a one-time bonus of $2,800. Watch taxes take away at least 25% of that,” Brinkley wrote in a Facebook post she shared with the News + Record. “And consider the fact that it’s a whole lot cheaper to give us a one time bonus instead of actually granting us what we deserve — a meaningful raise.”
In Chatham, as is the case across the country, schools have taken what would typically be seen as drastic measures to maintain student services in the face of drastic staffing shortages. At Chatham County Schools, where the districts said there were about 115 vacancies earlier this semester, those measures have taken the form of one-time bonuses from COVID-relief funds and the utilization of school principals and teachers as bus drivers and nutrition services workers.
Even with extra COVID-19 funding, finding new employees and retaining old ones isn’t an easy task. Lower pay than in private sectors and often sparse benefits, particularly for part-time or hourly workers, has long led to school staffing shortages, national labor advocates say, and the pandemic has only emphasized such factors.
This year, school districts across the state were collectively advertising more than 10,000 vacancies on online job boards in the first week of November, according to a WUNC analysis.
Brinkley said many lawmakers have made it “crystal clear” they care more about the privatization of schools than investing in public schools — even during such shortages.
“The sad thing is, even as so many of my teacher friends are running out of steam and will probably switch to another career within the next few years, many members of our General Assembly don’t care,” she said.
County taxpayers contribute a local supplement on top of a teacher’s base state pay — a factor which creates the most variation in teacher pay across the state. To address the disparity among supplements in lower-income counties, the new budget commits $100 million in recurring funds to a new “low wealth” supplement that will be divided among schools in all but five counties (Wake, Mecklenburg, Buncombe, Durham and Guilford).
At the CCS Board of Education Nov. 8 meeting, the board approved a new employee supplement plan, which anticipated an approximately $800,000 additional cost, which is up 10% from the county’s current budget.
Chatham’s representative in the House, Robert Reives II (D-Dist. 54), said that $100 million state fund is another needed supplement that will bring an additional $775 per year to teachers in Chatham.
Though “this budget is far from perfect,” Reives said he voted for it because the needs of the state were too great to allow another session to pass without a state budget.
“The budget has critical investments in public education that we have needed for years,” he told the News + Record. “While I supported much higher raises for our educators, as did Governor Cooper, I felt that 5% was the best we could get at this time. We have more work to do but making public schools an outstanding first choice for families in Chatham continues to be a major priority for me moving forward.”
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.
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