Editorial: Legislators should listen to McCrory

May. 11, 2014 @ 01:08 AM

Teachers probably can't help but feel hopeful that Gov. Pat McCrory's proposal for pay raises, unveiled last week in Greensboro, came about because politicians throughout Raleigh recognize not only the need for paying teachers more but the vast disapproval that greeted last year's legislative results.

If there is no widespread belief among legislators that this is an issue that the public demands be addressed, what will result from the General Assembly's short session that convenes starting Wednesday will leave teachers even more disillusioned.

Speaking at N.C. A&T Wednesday, the governor proposed bigger raises for teachers and opportunities for them to earn much higher salaries under a new pay schedule and

The plan that McCrory discussed last Wednesday proposed bigger raises than he has endorsed previously, proposed changes to the pay schedule, included a "career pathways" pilot program that would allow a handful of counties to experiment with some version of merit pay increases.

Earlier this year McCrory and legislative leaders endorsed raising  starting pay for teachers. What McCrory discussed Wednesday was raises ranging from 2.8 percent to 4.3 percent for teachers with eight to 12 years' experience, and average hikes of 2 percent for teachers with more service. There also would be a method for paying teachers more for working in high-demand subjects or less desireable schools. Throughout there was a heavy element of local decision-making.

It was a welcome departure from the tone of what passed the General Assembly last year -- a requirement for school systems to designate the "top" 25 percent of their teachers to receive pay raises. That's a bad plan, not only because of the resentment it can create -- between teachers with raises and those without, and between teachers and school system leaders -- by leaving the majority of teachers tagged with the implied label of mediocrity, but because it's a top-down, "we know better" solution created by politicians, not educators.

In fact the 25-percent plan received no mention by McCrory, as though it were not current state law. Perhaps that's because the Guilford and Durham school boards sued to stop implementation of the law and won an initial court ruling. In that light, it could be better for all concerned to replace the plan with something that has broader support, as the plan McCrory laid out last week seems to have.

But the legislature's track record does not inspire much hope.

Last year, McCrory proposed a 1 percent pay raise for teachers. Legislators ignored him. They enacted their top priority, cutting taxes, and that plus extremely predictable but somehow unpredicted Medicaid overruns sucked all the oxygen and money from the room.

Though many details are left to be hashed out, this new plan by McCrory is even more expensive than his modest proposal last year would have been, and it has the added obstacle of a sizeable budget shortfall. It seems that the tax cuts may have cut deeper than anyone publicly said they would, so giving teachers raises poses quite the challenge indeed.

A great deal more than teacher pay remains to be fixed -- not the least of which is restoring the teacher assistants that the General Assembly cut -- but lifting North Carolina from it's 46th-place ranking in teacher pay ought to come first.

If only the track record showed that McCrory's word carries influence in the legislature.