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Teachers skeptical of state budget deal

Posted July 29, 2014 10:33 p.m. EDT
Updated July 30, 2014 12:31 p.m. EDT

— Legislative leaders touted Tuesday’s budget deal as “historic” while the state’s largest teacher organization described it as a plan that “disrespects” teachers and public school employees.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger called it "the largest teacher pay increase in state history” during a media briefing.

Teachers will receive a pay raise amounting to 7 percent on average this year under the budget deal, which also boosts early career teacher pay to a minimum of $35,000 per year by the 2015-16 school year.

The budget compromise resulted from weeks of negotiations between the House and the Senate, which differed on funding for teacher raises and teacher assistants. Senate leaders originally wanted an 11 percent pay raise for teachers, cutting funding for Medicaid and teacher assistants to pay for it. The House and governor wanted a 6 percent raise for teachers and no loss of teacher assistants or Medicaid eligibility.

Non-certified school employees, including teacher assistants, will receive a $500 pay raise under the plan. Rank-and-file state employees will receive a $1,000 pay raise and five bonus vacation days, lawmakers said.

While the budget plan, which still requires approval from the full House and Senate, does not cut any teacher assistant positions, $65 million has been moved from the teacher assistant line item to pay for teachers.

Another $24 million in teacher assistant funding was made "non-recurring," meaning the funds will expire next year without legislative approval. Those funds will cover items other than teacher assistants.

"The budget will also protect teacher assistant positions, protect classroom funding and continue to give superintendents broad flexibility to tailor classroom spending to needs," Berger said.

But teachers at the top of the pay scale – those with the most experience – will receive a raise much smaller than 7 percent, said Mark Jewell, vice president of the North Carolina Association of Educators. He described the plan as a “down payment on the state’s IOU to public education.”

“I think the devil is in the details,” Jewell said. “We have strong concerns on this right now.”

Raises for bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other school support employees would be only half of those of other state employees, said Jewell, who added that lottery money and some one-time funding will be used to pay for the budget.

“We do feel like there is going to be job losses to fund this,” he said.

House Speaker Thom Tillis said the state has millions in savings and reserves to ensure the budget is covered.

“The promise we are making in the budget can continue to be fulfilled,” Tillis said.