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Bettina Vinson has driven a school bus in Wake County for 17 years, and when she learned that after years of frozen pay she would receive a $500 raise according to the budget proposal state legislators are debating now in Raleigh, she was shocked.

“It was like a slap in the face,” said Vinson.

Lawmakers have included in their 2014 budget proposal a $1,000 raise for most public employees, but non-teaching public school workers – teacher assistants, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and other non-certified and central office staff—will only see a $500 salary increase, if lawmakers pass the budget as it is currently written.

“Why are the N.C. State bus drivers, who are doing the same job and are driving older kids who are easier to manage getting a $1,000 pay raise when we’re driving small kids and doing the same work they are doing and getting $500?” said Vinson.

“I think it’s wrong because what people are not realizing is that we are the first ones that these children see in the morning,” said Vinson. “And we set the tone for the teachers. Sometimes you have kids who’ve had nothing to eat, and I buy food to keep on the bus because you know the ones who get on the bus without breakfast or supper the night before, and so I feed them.”

So far, not one lawmaker who has had a hand in crafting the budget proposal has explained why public school employees are getting the shaft. Read More

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Education-budgetLate last night, lawmakers released a final budget deal brokered between the House and Senate that provides pay raises for teachers and a number of other education funding adjustments.

There’s a lot to process in the mammoth document, so let’s just get started with the basics on education, and I promise you — there will be more to come.

Teacher Pay

Lawmakers say they’ve provided an average 7 percent pay increase for teachers in this budget, but there’s widespread dispute over that figure since longevity pay has been wrapped up into the pay raises.

To see a side-by-side comparison of the old and new teacher pay schedules, click here.

Senator Phil Berger called the teacher pay raise the largest in North Carolina’s history, although the folks at ProgressNC fact-checked that claim and found it to be false.

Teacher Assistants

Lawmakers say TAs are “preserved” this year in the budget, but there are a few catches.

Lottery revenues will pay for a share of the funding for teacher assistants, and a portion of TAs will also be funded with non-recurring funds – meaning there will be another fight to keep them next year.

Also mentioned at Tuesday’s press conference– $65 million that was supposed to pay for TAs was moved back into funding for teacher positions. But local superintendents have the “flexibility” to move that money back over and save more TAs.

*However, that figure is not apparent in the budget’s money report. What we do know, however, is that in the certified 2014-15 budget, TAs were slated to cost $477,433,254 — but this latest budget spends $368.3 million.

Finally, while most state employees will get a $1,000 raise, TAs only get a $500 raise, along with public school custodial workers, cafeteria workers and other non-certified and central office personnel.

Higher Education

While lawmakers said on Tuesday they were able to preserve current funding levels for the university system, what actually is in place is a now slightly increased $76 million dollar cut that was in the original two-year budget passed in July 2013, but not in the most recent budget proposals.

This cut comes on top of years of cuts to the university system that have resulted in thousands of lost jobs and eliminated courses.

In 2011, the state’s universities had to cut $80 million, or 3.4 percent of its overall budget. Five hundred classes were eliminated, 3,000 jobs were cut and another 1,500 vacant jobs were eliminated. In the four years prior to 2011, state funding to the university system was slashed by $1.2 billion. Read More

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Barbara Dell Carter

Second grade teacher Barbara Dell Carter

Do you remember Barbara Dell Carter?

She’s the second grade classroom teacher at John Cotten Tayloe Elementary School in “little” Washington, who I visited late last summer while she dutifully prepared her classroom for the first day of school.

As she straightened up her books (many of which she procured through her own means), Carter told me of her fears of facing yet another year without a dedicated teacher assistant (TA), not to mention how to cope with a state budget that dealt significant cuts to other areas of the classroom.

She is worried. Not the back-to-school jitters kind of worried; she has deep-seated concerns about the challenges she will face this year as educators grapple with a public school budget that spends $500 million less than what was spent in 2008.

Five years ago, the teacher assistant who is now sitting in Carter’s classroom preparing instructional materials would typically spend the entire day, every day, with Carter during the school year. That teacher assistant would help her manage 21 or 22 seven-year-old children who need to go to the bathroom, get fed, learn a lesson at a slightly slower or faster pace, or go to the nurse’s office, among many other possible situations, all throughout the day.

Now, that teacher assistant will be shared among four or five other classrooms. So maybe Carter will have a colleague help her manage her classroom for just an hour each day.

Maybe.

Read More

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On the heels of its Raleigh job fair in May, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) is once again looking to poach North Carolina’s school teachers to come work in Texas for much higher pay. The Texas school district will be holding job fairs this week in Greensboro, Raleigh and Charlotte.Houston

The available jobs in Houston, according to Greensboro’s News & Record, are in “critical shortage” areas including bilingual education, secondary math and science, special education and career and technical education.

HISD, which is headed by former Guilford County Schools superintendent Terry Grier, advertises a starting salary for teachers of $49,100. In North Carolina, the starting salary for teachers is currently $30,800. The advertisement says the Houston school district is “prepared to make job offers on the spot.”

North Carolina currently ranks 46th in the nation in teacher pay, and there has been no shortage of attention to the fact that teachers, who haven’t seen a significant pay increase in six years, are leaving the state in large numbers.

Lawmakers are currently embroiled in a budget battle over how much more to pay teachers, proposing anywhere from a 6 to 11 percent pay raise and bringing the starting salary for teachers up to $35,000.

But those salary increases may come at the expense of teacher assistants, who could be laid off in large numbers this fall to pay for the pay bumps.

See HISD’s job fair advertisements here, here and here.

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nci-vol-2174-300The White House Council of Economic Advisers released a report today detailing the health and economic consequences of refusing to accept federal Medicaid money to expand insurance coverage in North Carolina.

If the state accepted federal funds we could provide insurance coverage to 377,000 more people. This influx of federal money would also create jobs and boost our economy. And reducing our uninsured rate would have salutary impacts on the lives of those able to obtain affordable health care.

For example: 27,000 women would gain access to to recommended health screenings; 90,000 people would gain access to a medical home; 50,000 more people would report that they are in good health. The individual financial impacts are no less dramatic. Closing the coverage gap here would mean 17,000 fewer families facing catastrophic medical bills and 53,600 fewer people borrowing money to finance their health needs.

Some claim that North Carolina can’t afford to extend health coverage to more people. When you look at the numbers it’s clear that we can’t afford not to expand coverage. In 2014 the state is giving up $2.7 billion in federal funds. In 2015 that increases to $3.2 billion. In 2016 it’s $3.6 billion. In 2014 we could create 8,700 jobs. In 2015 we could create 19,400 jobs. If a private company or a new military base opened in North Carolina that created 19,000 jobs, politicians would be elbowing each other to get to the ribbon cutting.

The Council of Economic Advisers calls the decision to refuse new Medicaid funds a “missed opportunity.” That’s an understatement; it’s more like a terrible shame.