RALEIGH — The head of the local organization representing teachers doesn’t think a budget plan that boosts teacher pay goes far enough.
“We still aren’t where we need to be as far as teacher pay,” said Dee Grissett, president of the Robeson Association of Educators. “We are at the bottom, that’s why we need to keep and retain successful teachers. We are constantly losing teachers to South Carolina and Georgia. We can’t keep our qualified teachers here.”
Most surveys show North Carolina ranks in the low 40s in the country in teacher pay.
But the state’s position would improve with a General Assembly budget that is likely to be approved today, which gives public school teachers a 3.3 percent raise this coming year with a total increase of 9.6 percent over the next two years. That would immediately add about $1,200 to the annual salary of a teacher now making $40,000 a year.
The county Board of Commissioners in its budget has provided $930,000 to boost the local supplement from 5 to 6 percent, which would add another $400 to that teacher’s annual salary.
“Before today it appeared like we were going to be getting a substantial pay increase. The final budget brought out today, it still shortchanges us,” Grissett said on Tuesday. “It is still not putting the resources into public education for our children to succeed. They need to fully fund public education.”
Republicans who are in charge of both chambers of the General Assembly disagree, saying the budget boosts education spending by $700 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Grissett did express appreciation to the county commissioners, saying a supplement boost will make Robeson more competitive with surrounding districts.
“They have approved a 1 percent. That’s great. That is a step,” Grissett said. “If we can get 1 percent for each year of five years, we will be really helping to improve. They haven’t had a local supplement increase in 15 years.”
Brian Freeman, a member of the Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County, called the measure “a step in the right direction” by a General Assembly often criticized as shortchanging education.
“Past budgets, there has been a shortfall of funding for public school educators. I’m happy to see that it is moving forward,” he said.
Board Chairman Loistine Defreece was more positive.
“That’s great, I like that. They deserve it,” she said.
Brenda Fairley-Ferebee, another member of the school board, believes more should be done — much more.
“I don’t think teachers are ever paid enough,” she said. “They are headed in the right direction, but we need to increase pay if we are going to compete with other states. I think the money is there. If they looked and revised their budget, it can happen.”
Democrats in Raleigh have been on the outside of the Republican-controlled budget process, but one Robeson County Democrat was satisfied with the outcome.
“Could it be better? Certainly it could,” said Rep. Charles Graham, a former educator. “But 3.3 percent increase for teachers is pretty good. I would like more, but this is what we have to work with. It’s the best we are going to get.”
Graham said he is disappointed that the budget doesn’t include more money for expansion of broadband in rural areas, a need that must be met if students there are going to have access to advances in technology available to students in urban areas of the state.
According to legislative leaders, assistant principals pay will also be increased, while principals would benefit from new performance bonuses.
The $23 billion budget also funds more than 3,500 slots for the state prekindergarten program, reducing the state’s waiting list by 75 percent, and earmarks more than $100 million in lottery profits over two years to help economically struggling counties build schools through a matching program.
Last year there was considerable conversation among county commissioners and school board members about the need to build new schools in Robeson County but a consolidation plan to close 30 schools and building 14 died in Raleigh when needed legislation was not approved. The youngest school in Robeson County was built in the mid-1980s.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly