ELIZABETHTOWN — Along with the recent signing of the North Carolina 2016-17 fiscal year budget came what Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration called a “monumental” pay increase for teachers, marking an historic milestone.
According to a press release by McCrory, the average teacher salary, for the first time in history, will top $50,000, and benefits bring the average total compensation package for teachers to $67,000. Under the new budget, the average teacher increase will be 4.7 percent, but Bladen County Schools Public Information Officer Valerie Newton pointed out a couple of caveats.
“What you must understand when looking at the budget it that there are granular details. That 5 percent includes supplements, which vary widely from system to system, and in Bladen County, we’re at the low end at 4 percent,” she said.
“Additionally, the key word is ‘average.’ We want to make sure people understand that not everyone is going to see 5 percent. New teachers will still start out at a base salary of $35,000, and as you go up the step schedule — based on experience and credentials — the increase will vary. The change is mostly going to benefit those with 1-14 years of experience.”
Dublin Primary School third-grade teacher Denise White, while hopeful about the raise, does see another problem.
“Last year, all teachers with 11-plus years teaching experience lost their longevity. I had the privilege of receiving longevity pay for two years,” she said. “When it was taken away, I lost a portion of my salary, just as all of the other teachers who were eligible for longevity pay. If we happen to be in the group who actually sees a pay raise, we will be getting some of the money that was taken away from us.”
The raise has been lauded as enabling North Carolina schools to recruit quality teachers and compete with other states, and White sees the possibility.
“As the pay scale rises, hopefully more people will go into the teaching profession. We are short teachers each year, and good teachers are definitely hard to find,” she said. “I hope we will be able to find teachers to fill the positions and the pay will be competitive with other occupations. Some teachers are already working multiple jobs just to make ends meet. A significant pay raise would help these teachers focus more on their profession in teaching rather than focus on multiple occupations. It could also entice teachers who have left the profession to consider teaching again.”
She added, “Teachers are moving out of North Carolina to teach or even leaving the profession because they can make more money and live comfortably instead of living paycheck to paycheck. Yes, our salaries still need work. Once you reach a certain number of years, your salary is capped. Teachers are a valuable asset to society, and we just want to be paid as the professionals we are.”
Like White and Newton, Plain View Principal Deborah Belle sees the increase as a step in the right direction, however.
“I don’t think it’s enough, but we’re moving in the right direction,” Belle said. “It’s been so long since any increase was given that it will take many, many years to catch up. This is just a drop in the bucket.”
The pay increase will only affect certified teachers, according to Newton.
Other budget highlights
— A middle-class tax cut is anticipated to save taxpayers $132 million over the next year. The budget increases the personal income tax standard deduction by $2,000 for married filing jointly and proportionately for other filers and eliminates income taxes for approximately 75,000 taxpayers.
— Starting with students entering college this fall, undergraduate tuition will freeze for students at all University of North Carolina schools who graduate in four years, or five years for those in five-year programs. Fee increases are now capped at 3 percent annually, and tuition is dropped to $500 per semester for in-state students at Elizabeth City State University, UNC-Pembroke and Western Carolina University.
— The budget, in an effort to tackle the mental health crisis, invests $20 million to implement the recommendations on the Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Substance Abuse Use, the information for which can be found at www.ncdhhs.gov.
— $473 million is invested in the state’s rainy day fund, bringing the reserve to an all-time high of nearly $1.6 billion.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.