Greensboro, N.C. — North Carolina public school teachers would be able to earn thousands of dollars more a year if they succeed in the classroom, mentor their colleagues and work in high-demand subjects or hard-to-staff schools under a plan rolled out Wednesday by Gov. Pat McCrory.
McCrory also said that he will recommend in his 2014-15 budget proposal that all teachers receive an average 2 percent pay raise this year. That is on top of a plan he and legislative leaders announced in February to raise the base pay for starting teachers.
"If we're going to fulfill our potential and ensure that every member of the next generation and future generations in North Carolina fulfill their potential, we can't just appreciate teachers for one week," the governor said, noting that this is Teacher Appreciation Week across the state. "We've got to appreciate teachers for generations to come every week of the year."
The Career Pathways for Teachers program is a local-based model that would reward teachers for both experience and student performance and give school districts the flexibility to provide higher pay to get teachers into low-income and rural schools and to recruit hard-to-find science and math teachers.
"We're bringing the decisions back to the local level and not have all of the decisions made in Raleigh," McCrory said. "I want to give (superintendents) flexibility to meet the market forces."
Wake County Superintendent Jim Merrill said he would welcome the flexibility to have a different pay plan than one offered in Charlotte or in Dare County.
"The opportunity to create the district's own plans based on needs," Merrill said, "that's great news to hear."
The program also would reward successful teachers who remain in the classroom rather than move into administrative positions and then mentor other teachers. McCrory's plan also would reinstate pay bumps for teachers with advanced degrees in their fields. State lawmakers eliminated that extra pay last year but said they would reinstate it only for teachers already working toward their degrees.
"This is all about the students and attracting the best teachers we can to help the students," McCrory said, adding that under-performing teachers would no longer be guaranteed annual raises.
McCrory highlighted a few teachers attending the announcement at North Carolina A&T State University to show how they would benefit under the Career Pathways model. For example, Pam Foster, a fourth-grade teacher at Forest Pines Drive Elementary School in Raleigh, would be eligible for up to $14,750 more because she has nine years in the classroom, has national board certification and is a teacher mentor.
"We shouldn't have to be worried about paying our bills. We should be focused on educating the students in our communities," Franklinton Elementary School third-grade teacher Rebecca Bishop said..
State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson expressed support for the plan. The North Carolina Association of Educators said it has proposed changes to the state's teacher pay structure for years and wants to work with McCrory and lawmakers on crafting a "fair and workable salary schedule."
All school districts are asked to submit plans for their own performance-based pay models in the coming months, and the State Board of Education will select eight districts to pilot the program in 2014-15 and another eight in 2015-16. The state board will then approve the pilots that meet the Career Pathways objectives. By 2017-18, all North Carolina school districts will have the system in place.
McCrory plans to set aside $9 million in his budget proposals in each of the next two years to pay for the pilot projects, and he said Career Pathways would become a funding priority for new state revenue in the coming years. He couldn't estimate the total cost of the system.
"This is going to be a tough battle, partly due to the tough budget circumstances and, frankly, due to we have so many different opinions on education from both the right and the left," he said. "This is not about the right and the left. This is about doing what's right for the future of North Carolina."
Increasing the base pay for starting teachers from $30,800 to $35,000 over the next two years already is expected to cost $174 million, and officials said Wednesday that expanding that to an average 2 percent raise for more experienced teachers and providing a $1,000 raise for other state workers would push the total cost to about $265 million.
"I know that's not as much as you want and need, but it's a beginning," he said.
NCAE Vice President Mark Jewell panned the proposed raises as inadequate, noting that teacher pay has been frozen for five of the last six years.
"North Carolina needs to restore the income of those teachers and give an across-the-board raise that is meaningful," Jewell said in a statement, suggesting that the state put off tax cuts scheduled to go into effect this year.
McCrory also said he plans to include an extra $3.6 million in his budget proposal to expand slots in the state's pre-kindergarten program and would add $23 million to the budget for school textbooks, noting the shift to digital learning won't happen overnight.
The governor didn't say, however, what he plans to cut in his spending outline to pay for the various increases, but he said it could be funded without sacrificing tax cuts. Democrats quickly jumped on that aspect to criticize the proposal.
"All Gov. McCrory provided today is an unfunded plan that continues to sell North Carolina educators and students short," House Minority Leader Larry Hall said in a statement. "North Carolina needs a bold plan that includes more significant pay raises for our teachers and puts North Carolina on a path to reaching the national average."
Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue said he wants to work with McCrory on a "real plan" to improve teacher pay and North Carolina public schools.
"The governor clearly recognizes the need to undo some of the damage that his administration did to education last year," Blue said in a statement. "It’s time to see action, and not just to relieve some of the hardships teachers have borne thanks to the governor."