Teachers in Ashe County Schools (ACS) could be in store for a significant pay hike, but it would come attached with a price to them and others, students included, in the district.
The North Carolina State Senate approved a $21.1 billion budget for 2014-15 in the early hours of Saturday morning, May 30, and there are things ACS Superintendent Dr. Todd Holden likes about the budget, and things he doesn’t.
“I like part of his (Gov. Pat McCrory) budget and I like part of the Senate’s budget,” Holden said.
While the Senate’s plan offers up an 11 percent raise for teachers, it does so with several caveats.
“What they’re (Senate) trying to do is get an average of 11 percent pay increase for teachers, but there’s a catch,” Holden said. “The catch is they have to give up their tenure, or due process rights.
The issue of tenure for teachers is cloudy, at best, following Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood’s recent ruling that declared a law unconstitutional, which required veteran teachers in North Carolina’s public schools to surrender tenure status in favor of multi-year contracts and financial incentives.
The Senate’s proposed 11 percent increase would mean the average teacher would see an added $5,800 to his or her salary. However, the plan cuts funding for teacher assistants (TAs), nurses, and transportation, and therein lies how the Senate freed up funds for the pay hikes.
The Republican-controlled Senate’s 32 — 10 approval of its 2014-15 budget sets the stage for what may be a tension-filled intra-party fight with McCrory, who issued a statement critical of the Senate’s pay plan for teachers on Thursday.
“I think we need a more comprehensive approach, long-term sustainable and fiscally responsible approach on how we are going to pay our teachers in the future so it’s a career as opposed to a one-time pay increase,” McCrory said. “So at this point in time, we have a major difference with the Senate and we hope to resolve those differences during the next several weeks.”
North Carolina teachers are among the lowest paid in the U.S. The state is ranked No. 46 in the nation, surpassing only Mississippi and West Virginia in the Southeast, according to the National Education Association. The low pay has prompted school districts in Virginia and Texas to recruit or “poach” certified teachers from the state.
While Holden is a proponent of the pay increase for teachers, he is not a fan of such a raise coming at the expense of TAs, school nurses and transportation.
“I don’t like sacrificing personnel for this raise,” Holden said. “There are about 7,500 TAs across the state. For Ashe County, you’re looking at (cutting) anywhere from six to 10. We’d have to risk that many.”
The cut in school nurses and to transportation also concerns Holden.
“The other caveat of that is they’re cutting funding for nurses,” Holden said. “We could lose anywhere from one to two (school) nurses in the county.”
The loss of one or two nurses, plus the TAs, would mean anywhere from 10 to 15 employees in ACS would lose their jobs.
Holden said if the Senate gets its way, the district will have to “reevaluate” bus routes in the county, which most likely means eliminating some.
“We’re going to have to reevaluate our bus routes and make sure they’re the most efficient, which will mean we’re going to have to take some buses off the road,” Holden said. “That means we’re going to have to tighten our belts even more.
“We’re tight,” Holden said. “We’re pretty much as tight as we can get.”
Holden is pleased, however, that the Senate agreed to reconsider cuts to small county funding, which burned a $300,000 plus hole in the ACS operating budget.
“What I like about the budget is that they’re going to reevaluate small county funding, which is something that affects us,” Holden said.
While McCrory and the Senate have proposed budgets of their own, one has yet to be passed in the House of Representatives. Both houses of the General Assembly and McCrory will sign off on a budget sometime in the next few months. Meanwhile, the wrangling will continue.
Holden said he had made several attempts to get in touch with Senator Dan Soucek, who voted in favor of the budget, but had yet to hear back from him as of early Friday evening, May 30. Regardless, he steadfastly maintains there are elements of the good and the bad in the Senate’s budget.
“This will put teacher pay back to the middle of the pack nationwide,” Holden said. “The only thing I would like to see them look at differently is cutting the instructional support, which will decrease instruction time due to teachers having to do more cafeteria duty, bus duty, bathroom duty.”
Alan Bulluck can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @albulluck.