Today in North Carolina

Teachers have decision to make

June 6, 2014 

Many a North Carolina family will gather this month at the kitchen table to see if the state Senate’s teacher-salary plan becomes law.

Teachers might have a big decision ahead: Take the pay raise but lose “career status” job security, or keep career status and get no raise, maybe not another raise for as long as Republicans control the General Assembly.

The raise will tempt many teachers. While they average 11 percent, for teachers at the eighth-year level, the raise is 20 percent, or $4,970. At the 20th year, the raise is a bit less in percentage terms at 17.2 percent, but it’s the largest in dollars at $6,367.

Such raises would be only the second for teachers since 2008. Two years ago, teachers got a 1.2-percent hike.

Many teachers enjoy their career status, often mischaracterized as “tenure,” because it gives them due-process rights in the event they are fired. But for teachers who have good relationships with their principals and other administrators, that security might not be worth the money they’d be denying themselves.

There are families, however, that rely on the security of a teacher’s salary. One spouse is a teacher, with a steady, reliable income. The other has riskier work like owning a small business. In some families, security is more important.

For teachers who do not have secure relationships with their supervisors, surrendering career status means they’d be working on a one-year contract and could be dismissed with little recourse in 2015.

For the most-veteran teachers, the raise is so small that they might deem it foolish to give up career status. At the 29th year, teachers get only a 1.7-percent raise, or $143. At 30 and above, the raise is even smaller in percentage terms.

Teachers must also decide how they feel politically about the Senate. It’s likely many teachers will take the big raise and still be angry at the legislature.

Here’s why: The Senate budget funds the raise with $390 million in cuts to public education, and that likely means larger class sizes, fewer teacher aides, less money for supplies and textbooks and more duties for teachers.

Teachers are also likely to carry hurt feelings about the many nasty comments Republicans have made about their profession over the last several years.

Here’s something many are likely to do: Take the raise and then vote Democratic in hopes that party control will switch one day. Once that happens, Democrats are almost certain to reinstate career status with teachers being allowed to keep these big raises.

Initial reaction from the teachers’ main organization, the N.C. Association of Educators, was not good. It blasted the plan. So that raises the question whether the salary increases accomplish the two goals the Senate set out to achieve: Stem the flow of teacher resignations and alleviate teacher and parent anger at Republican legislators before the November elections.

We’ll get answers to both questions soon.

Paul O’Connor wrote “Today in North Carolina” for many years. He’s filling in while the providers of this column find a permanent replacement for Scott Mooneyham.

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