- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 28, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A proposed state budget for the year starting in July would include pay raises of more than 10 percent for veteran teachers who relinquish job protections a court says lawmakers can’t strip away, Senate leaders said Wednesday.

Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory promised in February that they would commit about $200 million over the next two years to raise pay for early-career teachers from $30,800 a year to $35,000.

Senators said they would go further by spending up to $468 million next year alone and offer bigger raises to teachers who voluntarily give up job protections. Principals and other school administrators would receive an average 2 percent raise, while other school employees would get a flat $500, Senate leader Phil Berger said.

Berger declined to say where the extra money for raises would come from, waiting for the Senate’s proposed $21.2 billion budget to be released. The plan, which was released later Wednesday, identifies savings elsewhere.

About $233 million would come by cutting funding designated for teaching assistants for second grade and third grade classrooms and reducing the amount allocated for assistants who work with kindergartners and first-graders. Republicans also would withhold funding for hiring 800 new second grade and third grade teachers next year, trim money for school buses and reduce funding for the education department administration by 30 percent, the document says.

Teacher salaries have been stuck since 2008 except for a 1.2 percent increase in 2012.

The Senate’s determination to dissolve tenure protections in return for better pay won’t help attract and retain bright teachers, North Carolina Association of Educators President Rodney Ellis said earlier Wednesday.

“I think it’s unfair to make us select between the two,” said Ellis, an 8th grade language arts teacher in Winston-Salem. “Teachers deserve a salary increase for the number of years that we’ve gone without” raises.

Giving up tenure rights would raise the state-supplied salary of a teacher with five years of experience from almost $31,000 this year to $35,000 next year. Teachers who work in communities able to supplement the state pay with local tax revenues could be paid more. That teacher would get no state pay raise if he or she kept existing job rights.

For more than 40 years, North Carolina law has said veteran teachers cannot be fired or demoted except for reasons that include poor performance, insubordination and immorality. Teachers earning career status after at least four years in a school district can challenge their firing at a hearing. About 57,000 of the state’s nearly 100,000 public school teachers have tenure rights, the state Department of Public Instruction said.

Last summer, Republican lawmakers voted to phase out those protections by 2018, arguing that teachers with their jobs on the line will have new incentive to improve classroom performance. A state Superior Court judge this month ruled the law stripping veteran teachers of the job protections they’d been promised was unconstitutional.

The Senate budget would repeal the phase-out for tenure rights and let teachers choose between job protection and higher pay, Berger said.

“We’re giving teachers a full choice. If the tenure is important to them,” Berger said, “they can keep it. If however what they want to do is move to this new pay scale, they can do that as well.”

Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed $21 billion spending plan for 2014-15 offered to set a minimum state salary of $33,000 for teachers with up to seven years of experience next year, raise pay for teachers with eight to 12 years’ experience by between 2.8 percent and 4.3 percent, and boost teachers with between 13 and 36 years’ experience by about 2 percent.

“We recognize and share the Senate’s goal to improve education and help teachers. However, the McCrory administration has a different and broader approach that promotes student achievement and rewards teachers,” McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis said in an emailed statement.

The statewide average teacher salary of nearly $46,000 ranked North Carolina 47th in the country. The Senate’s pay proposal would raise the average to $51,198 a year, about the middle of the national rankings, according to data provided by the Senate.


Associated Press writer Gary D. Robertson contributed to this report.


Emery Dalesio can be reached at https://twitter.com/emerydalesio

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