Disclosure: This reporter is married to a teacher employed with the Anson County School system.
Anson County school leaders fought for — and won — their employees’ supplementary pay during the county commissioners meeting on May 2.
Michael Freeman, superintendent of Anson County Schools, attended the meeting along with many other school employees, including several principals.
Freeman and the principals said they had heard that the commissioners decided during their April 4 meeting to not give county teachers a supplement there had been an understanding they would receive.
Currently, teachers receive a supplement of 2.5 percent of their base pay. Only Anson and Ashe counties have decided to use a quarter-cent sales tax to fund teacher supplements or school supplies. The matter was settled by a vote of county residents.
The county commissioners decided in April not to give the school board $209,755 set aside in contingency for teacher supplements. During the meeting, there was some debate among the commissioners about what information they were given to make that decision. Freeman said he believed the commissioners may have believed the school system’s other funding sources made the commissioners’ contribution unnecessary, but said that the teacher supplements would be reduced if the commissioners did not turn over the money.
Freeman said the school system has recruited teachers by promising them the 2.5 percent salary supplement, and if it was reduced, would make it more challenging to retain or recruit teachers.
In Fiscal Year 2014-15 — before the quarter-cent sales tax was approved — a teacher with three years of service could receive a supplement of $1,063, Freeman said. In FY 15-16, that teacher would have received a supplement of $2,065. With the amount removed by the county commissioners, the amount this year would have dropped to $1,551.70.
In FY 14-15, a teacher with 25 years of experience would have received a supplement of $1,488.50. In 15-16, it would have been $2,352.75. With the cut this year, it would have been $1,702.
Freeman said he didn’t want teachers to know they may lose their supplement.
“I’ve tried my best to protect this information,” he said. “I need to keep my teacher morale up.” News of a decreasing supplement at the same time many class sizes are increasing would likely “shatter” morale, he added.
“I don’t want to be the one to look at them — most of them have part-time jobs” to supplement their teaching income, he said. This school year, the certified teacher salary schedule for teachers with a bachelor’s degree started at $35,000 for teachers with no experience, according to the Fiscal Year 2016-17 North Carolina Public School Salary Schedules. A teacher with no experience and a master’s degree could expect $38,500. The amount increases slightly for those who are National Board for Professional Teacher Standards Certified.
Commissioner Jim Sims said he had missed some of the discussion due to a medical absence, but immediately made a motion to use the already-planned $209,755 in contingency for the supplements. Attracting and retaining good teachers will be critical to improving county industry, he said.
Chairwoman Anna Baucom asked the board to hold the motion and wait until the board had a chance to discuss the issue more in depth.
Sims said since the amount had already been agreed on, and county manager Megan Garner said since there was enough in contingency to fund the supplement, the money should be transferred to the schools immediately.
Baucom and Commissioner Ross Streater asked about the schools’ performance. State rankings for the schools have been low. Freeman and the principals each spoke and said that each school in the district has been improving in various areas, including in test scores.
Travis Stegall, principal of Peachland-Polkton Elementary School, said that attracting more teachers to the county would mean bringing more taxpayers, increasing county funding.
Streater asked why a school board member is trying to bring a charter school to the county if the high schools are doing well. School board member Brian Johnson has spoken to his board about the charter school and serves on the potential charter school’s board.
Freeman said the charter school is not associated with the school system, and Streater would have to speak with Johnson about it another time.
Dionnya Pratt, principal of Morven Elementary School, said she knows of one teacher who had $8 left one month and no money to buy gas to get to work the next day, saying the teachers are dedicated but already underpaid without reducing their supplement.
Commissioner Vancine Sturdivant came to the defense of the schools, telling Streater and Baucom that while they have had difficulties with test scores and performance in some areas, the teachers work hard in the classroom. She said many of the issues they face are ones the students learn at home, and that teachers shouldn’t be penalized for a lack of discipline at home.
Freeman and Lilesville Elementary School principal Maresa Dutton Phillips said that Sturdivant was correct. Many of Phillips’ students come for school at age 5 already underperforming, leaving the schools to help them catch up, she said. While the children make “leaps and bounds,” it can take awhile to make that growth.
Baucom still urged the board to consider the budget more closely before committing.
“I’m very concerned about voting until we’ve got the budget in hand and know what we can do,” she said.
Sims disagreed, and the board tried to find where the April error in believing the school board didn’t need the money had been made.
“Did you see the exact moment I lost control of this meeting?” Baucom asked.
“I’m sorry about that, but I think it’s been a productive conversation,” Freeman said.
“No, it hasn’t,” Baucom said, again urging the board to wait until later in the month to vote and look at the budget.
The supplement was approved 4-2, with Sims, Sturdivant, and commissioners Bobby Sikes and Jarvis Woodburn voting for it and Streater and Baucom voting against it.
Reach reporter Imari Scarbrough at 704-994-5471 and follow her on Twitter @ImariScarbrough.