Commentary

Mecklenburg, Forsyth schoolteachers speak out on pay, class size, vouchers

Two North Carolina schoolteachers authored fine assessments of state education policy this week. Charlotte-Mecklenburg schoolteacher Justin Parmeter has written another fine post on the reality that confronts North Carolina school teachers in light of rising benefit costs:

Rising cost of benefits means NC teachers earn less each year

Last week, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Ann Clark made her 2017-2018 operating budget recommendation to the Board of Education.  The presentation revealed some sobering data including per pupil spending (North Carolina is currently 12th out of 13 southeastern states in per pupil expenditures, ahead of only Mississippi) and comparatively low local salary supplements (for teachers past twenty years experience, other large districts in the state offer considerably larger supplements than Mecklenburg County).

But the figures that hit closest to home for me were those which compared salary increases with rising health benefits costs over the past several years.

In the run up to last fall’s elections, many of our state legislators were eager to talk about their support for increases in teacher compensation.  While that talking point may have scored points with your average voter, local teachers can tell you that their pay stub paints a very different picture.

A Charlotte-Mecklenburg teacher with a starting salary of $35,000 in 2008 has seen pay increases of $2647 up through the present.  Over the same period, health insurance cost hikes of $3892 have resulted in a net decrease in salary of nearly 4%.  Those figures do not include adjustments for inflation, insurance deductibles, housing, or any other living expenses which have consistently risen over the past decade, so the reality is even more bleak.

Detractors will say that out of control healthcare costs are a problem that every industry deals with, as American as apple pie.  However, education in North Carolina is mired in a unique crisis, with enrollment in our state university teacher prep programs down 30% over the past five years and other states luring our teachers away with higher pay.  We’re unlikely to avert the looming teacher shortage by asking people to commit to a career where they are guaranteed a paycheck that shrinks each year.

If our leaders both in the General Assembly and in the Governor’s mansion are serious about attracting the best and the brightest to teach in North Carolina, it’s high time we include the cost of benefits in our conversations about teacher compensation.  To laud pay increases that are eclipsed by soaring insurance premiums is simply putting lipstick on a pig.

Justin Parmenter, M.Ed, NBCT is an NC Teacher Voice Network Fellow at Waddell Language Academy in Charlotte.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, Forsyth County teacher Stuart Egan authored another of his patented
“open letters.” In “Open Letter to Sen. Chad Barefoot Concerning His Words on HB13,” Egan exposes the hypocrisy in the Senate Education Committee chair’s positions on two urgent matters of relevance to public schools: the state’s metastasizing school voucher program and the refusal of state senators to take up legislation providing relief from the state’s new and unfunded class size mandates for grades K-3.

As Egan notes, Barefoot and his conservative Senate colleagues refuse to advance the class size relief bill (a failure that leading to layoffs for TA’s and specialty teachers like those who teach music and P.E.) on the grounds that there is supposedly no accountability in local school district spending (a highly questionable allegation) even as they continue to work to expand vouchers (a program that’s been proven repeatedly to be unaccountable). Click here to read Egan’s entire post.

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