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Monday May 10th

State teacher pay increases, but concerns still linger

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As the numbers behind North Carolina's teacher pay hike become clear, many speculate whether the raise will really help public education in the state.

State Republican leaders Thom Tillis and Phil Berger touted the increase this summer as the highest single-year pay raise in the state's history without raising taxes. They said it would move the state in the national teacher pay rankings from 46th to 32nd.

Teachers do not have to give up their tenure to get the higher pay, which lawmakers had considered during budget discussions this summer.

But Raymond Thomas, a Carrboro High School teacher, said the pay raise is less impressive than politicians say.

“I think it’s great (the legislature) is raising salaries for younger teachers,” Thomas said. “But if you look at the overall way they implemented the pay raise, it’s creating a very flat pay structure.”

Although the raise averages $3,500 per teacher, each teacher’s pay increase could range from 18 percent for less than 10 years experience, to 0.3 percent for veterans who have taught for 30 years in the field.

The budget aims to boost early-career teacher pay by 14 percent over the next two years to $35,000 — a move that experts say could help combat the state's growing teacher turnover rate, which increased from about 12 percent in the 2011-12 school year to more than 14 percent in 2012-13.

The pay raise is costing the state a total of $282 million.

Terry Stoops, an analyst at the John Locke Foundation, said giving bigger raises in the beginning of teaching careers makes sense.

“It helps attract teachers into the profession, it retains teachers during year where there is high attrition for teachers, and it helps keep North Carolina competitive with neighboring states that are able to pay more,” Stoops said.

The hike might keep some teachers in North Carolina, said Ellen McIntyre, dean of education at UNC-Charlotte, but it is not substantial enough to attract teachers from out of state.

“We won’t have people flooding here," McIntyre said. "We’re in the low middle of the pack nationally.”

Matt Ellinwood, education policy analyst at the N.C. Justice Center, said rewarding inexperienced teachers more than veteran educators could cause retention trouble among the latter group.  

But Stoops said the biggest salary bumps should reward younger teachers, who tend to make bigger gains in productivity than their more experienced counterparts.

McIntyre said she doesn't think the raise will encourage more UNC-system students to study education.

She estimated that enrollment in education programs across the system is down 13 percent.

“Some (schools) are down almost 30 to 40 percent,” McIntyre said. “The raise might stabilize the attrition rate, but I don’t expect our numbers to go back up anytime soon.”

Thomas said since lawmakers used one-time funding measures lawmakers to fund the new salary schedule, there's no guarantee the raises will have future support.

“They had to use a variety of accounting tricks to get even this one pay raise funded,” Thomas said. “Long-term, I am concerned about whether or not we can sustain this level of funding without increasing revenue.

“I don’t see (this pay raise) as a commitment from the state."

Despite concerns surrounding the new pay schedule, McIntyre said the raise could inspire some teachers to consider staying in North Carolina.

"But they might always have their eye on something else," McIntyre said. "They might not stay for life."

state@dailytarheel.com

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