Raleigh, N.C. — The final report of the Educator Effectiveness and Compensation Task Force got a chilly reception Monday from teachers and some Democratic and Republican lawmakers on the panel.
The report stops short of recommending legislative action to address teacher pay this session. Instead, it recommends that lawmakers direct the State Board of Education to study the issue further and report back to lawmakers in November.
The report also recommends that lawmakers set a short-term goal to "significantly increase the salaries for entering teachers and those teachers who are most likely to leave the profession in North Carolina, i.e., teachers with less than 10 years of teacher experience."
"As a long-term goal," the report continues, "the General Assembly should increase the salaries for all teachers."
The document doesn't set out a timeline for either goal, or any other specifics.
Rep. Rob Bryan, R-Mecklenburg, co-chairman of the task force, called the report "a set of goals and principles to be applied as a specific plan is created, hopefully as soon as possible."
Bryan said most states take three to five years to work through changes to teacher compensation systems.
Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, said the task force, which legally ends its work April 15, should be extended to work in cooperation with the Department of Public Instruction study.
"Frankly, I’m disappointed we didn’t make a lot more progress and have a lot more specificity in our recommendations," Horn said, adding that the panel didn't address salary needs of teachers in community colleges and universities.
Panelist Ellen McIntyre, dean of the College of Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, criticized the wording of a finding that questions the value of master's degrees for teachers.
"I think the way it’s written doesn’t communicate accurately what the studies DO show. There are more studies that show a positive impact of having a master's degree," McIntyre said. "It doesn’t reflect the reality."
Rep. Tricia Cotham, D-Mecklenburg, called the report "a bunch of fluff."
"This is a disappointing report, and it’s going to be real hard to sell. It’s going to be real hard to sell to teachers who are on spring break right now cleaning pools, cutting grass, babysitting other people’s kids, doing anything they can to make ends meet," Cotham said.
"It comes down to a few simple questions: Do we value children? Do we value teachers? Do we value education as an economic driver?" Cotham asked.
Teachers on the panel criticized the report even more bluntly.
Timothy Barnsback, a teacher representing the Professional Educators of North Carolina, said he didn't believe the educators on the panel had much input in the process.
"I’m struggling to understand why we were brought here," Barnsback said, calling the panel's four meetings "presentations and propaganda."
Johnston County history teacher Richard Nixon said the report ignores veteran teachers who have been frozen out of their contractual pay increases for six years.
"I don’t recall anyone saying we should raise the salaries for beginning teachers and leave the rest for down the road," Nixon said.
But another panel member, Winston-Salem teacher Rebecca Fagge, commended legislative leaders for moving slowly.
"Teachers are tired of ready, fire, aim – doing something quick just to get it done," Fagge said. "It’s a problem when we don’t take enough time to do something right."
Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, another task force co-chairman, said the recommendations include the short -term goal of raising beginning teachers' pay because the governor and legislative leaders have already committed to that plan.
"When you only have a limited amount of money, where do you start?" Tillman asked, pointing out that North Carolina's starting salary is the lowest in the Southeast. "This is a first step. We had to start somewhere. That was the No. 1 problem."
Tillman said money that could have been used for teacher raises last year was used instead to bolster the state retirement system and health plan, both of which will benefit teachers in the long run.
Raises this year and next, he says, will depend on tax revenue. "If the money's not there, you can't spend money you don't have."
NCAE Vice President Mark Jewell said there's a reason the money's not there.
"They chose not to give educators in North Carolina a pay raise by giving billionaires and corporations huge tax breaks," Jewell said after the meeting, referring to the 2013 tax reform package. "Rolling back that 2 percent tax break for the wealthiest people would fund for every educator a significant salary increase."
He said he's hopeful that the short session will bring a pay raise proposal "that will honor and reward every teacher in North Carolina with a pay increase."
Bryan called the report "one small step."
"I think we’ve tried not to be overly political. Maybe we haven’t been political enough," he responded. "We wanted to be careful about creating a document most folks could agree with the principles of."