State school board: Teacher salaries are top budget priority

Posted March 4

— The State Board of Education has created a list of six budget priorities it wants Gov. Pat McCrory to consider this year. At the top of the list: teacher salaries.

School board members debated this week whether to request a specific amount, as Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson did recently when she asked lawmakers for a 10 percent raise for teachers. She has predicted that lawmakers will give teachers the largest salary increase in a decade because it is an election year.

Instead, board members decided to focus on how North Carolina ranks against other states. They want North Carolina public schools to become No. 1 in the Southeast for teacher salaries. North Carolina is currently ranked 11th out of 12 states in the region, according to state education leaders.

It's unclear how much of an increase it would take to become No. 1. Philip Price, chief financial officer for the state Department of Public Instruction, said it "will take some time to determine that percentage," adding that "we are starting that process now."

Legislators have raised teacher pay in each of the past two years, focusing on early-career educators. North Carolina ranked 47th in the country for average salaries for public school teachers, according to recent estimates by the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union.

A first-year teacher with a bachelor's degree and no special certifications makes $35,000, while 20-year veterans make $46,500 a year, state records show.

During budget discussions this week, state school board Vice Chairman A.L. "Buddy" Collins urged board members to be "reasonable in the requests we're making," adding, "I think this discussion is becoming a wish list."

Christine Fitch, a local board of education adviser, pushed back, saying, "It's not a wish list. It's a needs list."

"If you don't ask for it, you'll never get it," she said.

The school board's top budget priorities total more than $200 million in extra funding requests, not including teacher raises, which have yet to be calculated. A 1 percent salary increase across the board, for example, would cost $50.1 million. This year, North Carolina public schools received more than $8.5 billion in funding from the state.

The school board's other top budget priorities include:

Digital learning

  • $57 million for textbooks and digital resources
  • $25 million for classroom technology
  • $6 million to make the Home Base system free for all schools. Teachers use Home Base to access student data and teaching resources. Students use it to access assignments, grades and activities. Parents use it to view their children’s attendance and grades. Administrators use it to monitor data about students and teachers in their schools.
  • $3 million nonrecurring and $2 million recurring funds to support upgrades to the Uniform Education Reporting System.

Teacher recruitment and retention

  • $12 million for professional development, to restore the funds to 2008-09 levels
  • $4 million in incentive bonuses for teachers exceeding growth in the lowest achieving 5 percent of schools
  • $1 million to train lateral entry teachers, which would pay for two courses per year for those teachers

State agency support of public schools

  • $8.6 million for intensive support for the lowest-achieving 5 percent of schools and 10 percent of districts
  • $4 million for intensive support for students with behavioral/emotional needs
  • $600,000 for leadership programs for principals and assistant principals
  • $80,000 for the North Carolina Procurement Alliance

General classroom support

  • $46.9 million for instructional supplies and equipment
  • $20 million to support the implementation of Child Nutrition Program standards
  • $11.5 million per year for five years to hire an additional 236 nurses to achieve the recommended ratio of one nurse to 750 students, per the National Association of School Nurses
  • $4.5 million for additional assistant principal positions
  • $4 million to support 13 new board-approved cooperative innovative high schools
  • $1.3 million to restore 21 nurse positions eliminated in 2010-11

Residential schools

  • $4.3 million to purchase safety equipment
  • $510,000 for specific technology purchases for the Governor Morehead School and support for one technology position
  • $440,000 to increase working months for some staff from 10 or 11 months to 12 months to meet federal mandates
  • $300,000 to sponsor two residential summer programs for 150 children from the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf
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  • Will Sonnett Mar 4, 2016
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    Must be an election year.