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Bills favor teacher pay raises over bonuses

Two bills would change or eliminate teachers' bonuses for end-of-the-year testing, with the aim of increasing funding for across-the-board raises for teachers.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Bills before the North Carolina General Assembly would change or eliminate teachers' bonuses for end-of-the-year testing and increase funding across-the-board raises for teachers.

Existing law makes teachers eligible for bonuses based on their school's overall performance on end-of-the-year testing, called ABCs. Schools that met or exceed standards – labeled high-growth schools – can apply for the bonuses.

Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumblerland, a sponsor of two bills regarding the ABCs, said their methods differ but share the goal of finding some funds for teacher raises amid lean economic times.

"The most important thing we can do is pay our teachers," Glazier said.

H.B. 241 would eliminate all ABC bonuses and, instead, direct nearly $94 million to pay raises for all teachers in the 2009-2010 fiscal year. That sum is equivalent to the amount appropriated for ABC bonuses in the previous budget.

"It's to create an opportunity to look at a teacher salary increase, if that's at all possible, using money that's already designated but in a different way," Glazier said.

H.B. 242 would make fewer schools eligible for ABC bonuses. Staff at schools that meet expectations would not get bonuses; only those at schools that exceed expectations would get them. That would free about $20 million in funding for general pay raises and leave about $74 million for ABC bonuses.

"I have real problems, as well, with just the idea that we're paying people bonuses to meet expectations," Glazier said.

Sherri Strickland, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said she supports the priorities expressed in the two bills.

"We certainly are willing to look at some other options for the ABC bonus money at this time with our priority being the overall salaries," Strickland said.

But, she said, H.B. 241 would go father to catching up North Carolina teachers' salaries with the national average.

"The institution of a cap indicates that the more schools who jump over the hurdle, the less money there will be," Strickland said. "Overall, salary has much more to do with whether or not we are able to recruit or retain (teachers)."

In 2007-2008, about 80 percent of teachers statewide were eligible for bonuses. About half of public schools earned the designation as high-growth schools, and a little more than a quarter met expectations on ABC tests.

Lawmakers established the ABC bonus program in 1996 but have been criticized for under-funding it.

Amid the budget crunch last year, the program got about $13 million less than the State Board of Education had requested. That cut bonuses for teachers at high-growth schools from $1,500 to $1,053 and for teachers at schools that met expectations from $750 to $527.

Strickland said lawmakers should pay out the remainder of those bonuses.

The bills were filed in the House of Representatives last Thursday, each with three of the same Democratic sponsors – Reps. Glazier; Douglas Younge, of Hoke County; and Pricey Harrison, of Guilford County.

Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg, joined as a sponsor for H.B. 241, and Rep. Cullie M. Tarleton, D-Ashe, for H.B. 242.

All five bill sponsors are members of either the House Appropriations or Education committees.


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