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Stuart Egan: About those teacher salaries and raises ...

Stuart Egan: About those teacher salaries and raises ...

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Mike Graham, husband to Carver High School history teacher Christine Graham, helps her set up her classroom on Tuesday, August 18, 2015 in Winston-Salem, N.C. (Winston-Salem Journal, Andrew Dye) 

When Gov. Pat McCrory recently signed off on the budget for the next year, he, as expected, did it in electioneering style. He went to an elementary school in Monroe and used the opportunity to highlight his “commitment” to teachers.

McCrory claims that the $22.3 billion budget includes an average 4.7-percent pay raise for teachers across the state. He even said that for the first time ever average teacher pay will be more than $50,000 a year including local supplements by counties. There’s even a website dedicated to this initiative complete with a teacher endorsement 

McCrory is distorting the truth.

In his press conference and on the website, McCrory uses a dangerous word: “average.” What McCrory neglects to tell you is that most of the raises over the last three years have occurred at the very low rungs of the salary schedule, but it makes for great spinning of numbers.

One can raise the salary of first-year teachers by a few thousand dollars and it would give them an average raise of maybe 10-15 percent. One would then only have to give veteran teachers a very small raise funded by longevity pay (which all veteran teachers no longer get) and the overall average raise still looks good, and not much money has to be invested.

“Average” does not mean “actual.” Actually in this case, it’s like an average of the average. McCrory’s announcement is a whopping double standard and a total contradiction to what is really happening to average teacher pay.

The last four years have seen tremendous changes to teacher pay. For new teachers entering in the profession here in North Carolina, there is no longer any graduate-degree pay bump, no more longevity pay (for any teacher) and a changed salary schedule that makes it possible for a teacher almost top out on the salary schedule within 15 years with minimal raises for the last 15 years until retirement.

And that top salary for new teachers is barely over $50,000.

So, how can the average pay in North Carolina be over $50,000 when no one can really make much over $50,000 per year as a new teacher in his or her entire career unless they all become nationally certified (which takes a monetary investment by the teacher to get)?

Easy. He is counting all of the veteran teachers’ current salaries in that figure. The very people whose salaries simply disgust the governor and the General Assembly to the point that they had to take measures to “lower” them are actually being used to tout the governor’s bold statement.

Furthermore, the governor is counting on local supplements. This comes in the face of a budget that is allocating less money to the central offices of each school system for administrative costs. Now each county has to raise more money to essentially offset those costs and also allow for local supplements. And not all localities provide the same supplements. Just look at Arika Herron’s story in the Aug. 7 Journal, “Schools facing salary pinch.”

Any veteran teacher who is making above $50,000 based on seniority, graduate pay and national boards are gladly counted in this figure. It simply drives up the current average pay. But when these veteran teachers who have seniority, graduate pay and possibly national certification retire (and many are doing that early at 25 years), then the very people who seem to be a “burden” on the educational budget leave the system.

In reality, that would drive the average salary down as time goes on. But McCrory is only talking about the right here and right now.

Remember the word “average” is a very easy word to manipulate. In this case, the very teachers who are driving the “average” salary up are the very people that the state wants to not have in a few years. There will then be a new average. It can’t possibly be over $50,000 then, if current trends keep going.

And that extra money spent on education touted on the website? Of course there is more money spent now than in the past. North Carolina is one of the fastest-growing states in the country. More people mean more students to educate. But it is interesting that the per-pupil expenditure under McCrory is lower than it was before the Great Recession.

In truth, McCrory’s numbers do not add up. That is, unless Sen. Jerry Tillman introduces a new math track in schools that allows those numbers to create a sum that defies logic.

Stuart Egan teaches English at West Forsyth High School. The Journal welcomes original submissions for guest columns on local, regional and statewide topics. Essay length should not exceed 750 words.

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