Jamestown, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory and top legislative leaders will announce their plans for raising teacher salaries Monday morning during an event at Ragsdale High School in Jamestown.
In a notice for the event sent Sunday afternoon, McCrory's office described the 10:30 a.m. news conference as a policy announcement. However, multiple sources on and off the record confirmed that it would directly address teacher salaries.
In addition to the governor, House Speaker Thom Tillis, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and Lt. Gov. Dan Forrest, all Republicans, will be on hand. The event has many of the same trappings as when the state's top leaders rolled out a transportation reform package last year. That package sailed through the General Assembly after getting an initial blessing by all the state's top leaders.
This education reform measure could be getting a similarly warm send-off that could ease its way through the somewhat tumultuous legislative process.
"Yes, in principal I think there is a pretty good, solid agreement between the three bodies," said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, a chairman of both the Senate education budget and policy committees.
One person not scheduled to attend: Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson, a Democrat, who had not been invited to the event as of late Friday afternoon, according to her office. Atkinson has clashed with Berger in recent weeks over how a new reading requirement for third-graders should be implemented.
Neither the press release nor those who spoke about the announcement would give specific details of what would be announced. However, Tillman said, "If you've been listening and paying attention to what we've been saying, then you would have a good clue of what's going to take place."
Both McCrory and top legislative leaders have been talking about the need to raise teacher salaries. During a recent appearance on WRAL's "On the Record," McCrory education adviser Eric Guckian said that raising the $30,800 starting salary for teachers – about $6,000 below the national average – is a high priority for the governor.
"The biggest issue, we think, and the biggest pain point is in that starting salary," Guckian said. "We've got to make choices around fiscal responsibility, and that's why we're really going to focus on those first 10 years, particularly getting that base pay up....We want to raise the floor, and then we'll raise the ceiling."
Tillman, too, said that lawmakers generally agreed that raising the starting salary for teachers needed to be part of the package. "We need to get our teachers up to a competitive level with teachers from other states," he said.
Although some districts, such as Wake County, supplement what the state pays teachers, other districts offer only the state wage. Teachers have gotten only one across-the-board state salary increase in the past six years.
Both the governor and lawmakers have talked about differential pay for teachers in certain subject areas, such as science and math. It is unclear whether that will be part of the outline announced Monday.
Officials with the North Carolina Association of Educators, the state's largest teachers organization, have stressed that they want to see salaries raised for all teachers before pay bumps for specific specialties are considered. North Carolina's average teacher pay ranks among the bottom five states in the nation, according to the National Education Association, a teachers advocacy group.
In last year's budget, lawmakers gave school districts the chance to raise salaries of 25 percent of their teachers. In exchange for bonuses totaling $5,000 over the next four years, those teachers would give up their career status rights, what some call teacher tenure. That offer has been a point of controversy, with teachers groups saying that the state should raise salaries for all teachers. It is unlikely that any consensus plan would repeal that offer.
The staging on Monday's announcement is interesting in itself.
McCrory is a Ragsdale High graduate, and he has often returned to Jamestown and the surrounding area during key moments in his career, including announcements that he would run for governor in 2008 and 2012.
The first-term Republican has claimed former Gov. Jim Hunt as "a mentor," but he is drawing eyes away from Raleigh at the same time Hunt is kicking off the annual Emerging Issues Forum, an annual event the former governor founded. This year, the two-day conference is tackling the issue of education and the need to train, attract and keep highly qualified teachers. McCrory is scheduled to address the forum Monday afternoon.