Last updated: August 06. 2014 9:51AM - 560 Views
By - acavenaugh@civitasmedia.com

After session begins to wind down, Senator McLaurin gathers with Gerry Cohen, legal counsel, Senator Dan Blue, Senator Floyd McKissick, and Senator Mike Woodard to discuss remaining bills.
After session begins to wind down, Senator McLaurin gathers with Gerry Cohen, legal counsel, Senator Dan Blue, Senator Floyd McKissick, and Senator Mike Woodard to discuss remaining bills.
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Last week, the N.C. General Assembly passed a state budget that includes a 7-percent pay raise for public school teachers statewide.

Although a press release from House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) and Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) touted the raise as “the largest teacher pay raise in state history,” the budget compromise has been met with some criticism.

According to information provided by the organization, Progress N.C. Action, the pay raise is not the largest in state history. “From 1997 to 2000, the General Assembly raised teacher pay over four consecutive years in order to fulfill Gov. Jim Hunt’s campaign pledge to raise teacher pay to the national average,” said Logan Smith with Progress N.C. Action. “The average yearly raises were up to 7.5 percent, with the state investing a total of more than $1.1 billion to raise teacher salaries.

“In 1999 alone,” he continued, “North Carolina spent $291 million to raise teacher pay by 7.5 percent. Adjusted for inflation, the 1999 raise is worth $416 million in 2014 dollars.”

Sen. Gene McLaurin, a Democrat who represents Anson and several other counties, said he wasn’t happy with the amount of time he was given to consider the budget before it went to a vote. “The budget was 267 pages, and then there were another 200-plus pages in another document,” he said. “This was delivered to my office at 8 a.m., and we were expected to vote on it that afternoon. It was not a lot of time to consider an almost 500-page document.”

However, he voted “yes” on the budget, largely due to the pay raise. “I think everyone agrees that state employees and educators deserve a long overdue pay increase,” he said in a statement. “At a time when we are ranked 46th in the nation in teacher pay, this budget will reward teachers with an average 7-percent raise- rolling longevity pay into the raise, and restoring teacher tenure. This budget prioritizes reading in early grades by funding Read to Achieve and keeping teacher assistants in the classroom. The budget compromise rewards state employees with a $1,000 pay increase and rewards our non-certified school and central office employees with a $500 pay increase. I realize this is not nearly enough, because they deserve more after having no raise with the cost of living ever increasing, but this is a step in the right direction.”

His colleague in the N.C. House, Rep. Mark Brody (R-Anson, Union), agreed that the pay raise for educators is a step in the right direction. “Any time you can do a pay raise, it’s a good thing,” he said. “And what’s even better, we were able to do a pay raise without raising taxes.”

Although the raise will help move teachers from the bottom of America’s highest-paid teachers list, it won’t be enough to get them to the top, Brody admitted. “We’ll probably never get to the top, because it includes a lot of large metropolitan areas with a lot more resources than we have in North Carolina,” he said.

In addition to the much talked about teacher pay raise, the budget agreement will also:

  • Reform and replace an archaic 37-step teacher pay system with a six-step schedule and a transparent compensation package;
  • Preserve current Medicaid eligibility;
  • Provide most state employees a $1,000 pay raise and five bonus vacation days;
  • Increase pay for step-eligible Highway Patrol Troopers between 5 and 6 percent;
  • Maintain funding at current levels for the state’s university system; and
  • Fulfill the commitment to extend supplemental pay for teachers with master’s degrees who have completed at least one course in a graduate program as of Aug. 1, 2013.

“I think we covered what the public wanted us to do,” Brody said. “I wish we could’ve given pay raises to state employees who aren’t teachers as well, but hopefully next budget cycle we can help them out.”

“I remain committed to working with my colleagues in a bipartisan manner to sustain this budget, help resolve pay equity issues, and bring more transparency into the budget process,” McLaurin said. “It is my hope that when you have questions and concerns, you will reach out to me to share those. My staff is eager to help answer your questions. As always, I am grateful for and humbled by the opportunity to serve the citizens of the 25th Senate District and look forward to being in the district full time.”

McLaurin may be reached at Gene.McLaurin@ncleg.net or at 919-733-5953. Likewise, Brody also offered to talk with constituents about any concerns they may have at any time. He can be reached at 919-715-3029 or 704-965-6585.

The full budget compromise bill is posted on the North Carolina General Assembly website at www.ncleg.net.

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