Durham educators: State budget undervalues, disrespects veteran teachers

Posted May 29, 2018 6:39 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 11:16 a.m. EDT

— Many teachers are not happy with the proposed North Carolina state budget. Some are even calling it "a slap in the face."

In a historic march in Raleigh earlier this month, thousands of teachers called for more pay and more classroom funding, and many feel their voices were not heard.

The average increase for teachers, once pegged at 6.2 percent, will instead be 6.5 percent. Gov. Roy Cooper had asked for 8 percent on average and would have paid for that by holding back promised tax cuts.

The driving force behind that May 16 rally, in many ways, was Durham teachers. After seeing the state budget, many teachers from the Bull City are not happy.

Michelle Burton, a teacher for 23 years who teaches at Spring Valley Elementary, takes issue with how the budget treats veteran teachers.

“It’s just really disheartening,” Burton said. “I’m really an asset to my school. It’s the way the General Assembly is saying, ‘We don’t value your service,’ so it’s very demoralizing to me.”

Salaries for veteran teachers have been one of the biggest philosophical divides between Republicans and Democrats, with GOP lawmakers focusing more on boosting salaries for younger teachers.

In the latest budget, they add a new bump for teachers with 25 or more years of experience.

The budget gives pay raises to teachers every year until year 15, when their salaries are frozen at $50,000 for a decade.

At year 25, teachers get a bump to $52,000. Salaries, which do not include local supplements, then remain stagnant until retirement.

“The General Assembly is still disrespecting our educators in not giving us the kind of raise we need to keep our educators in the profession,” Burton said.

Burton feels that model doesn't fairly compensate teachers.

“(Veteran teachers) know all the tricks of the trade,” she said. “They can give you all of that valuable knowledge to help younger teachers get through the year.”

Turquoise Parker, who has taught for more than seven years, is a teacher at Eastway Elementary School. She said some teachers have questioned if the May 16 rally accomplished enough.

“(Teachers) who have been here for a while, who have shown their commitment, their loyalty, and now, all of a sudden, we are still not honoring their loyalty,” she said.

She said she reminds them that the rally unified the state’s educators, and the real battle will come in November during the election.

“The ‘no discussion’ part of it is blowing my mind,” Parker said, referring to the maneuver legislative leaders are using to block any amendments to and curtail debate over the budget. “That completely contradicts what we teach in our classrooms.”

The Durham Association of Educators is meeting Thursday to discuss their next steps.

Many Durham teachers said they feel the focus must now be electing candidates they believe are the most dedicated to public education.

“They better be scared come November,” Parker said.