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Scott Mooneyham: Election-year pay raise may not cool teachers’ anger

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RALEIGH — After weeks of talk, the announcement that Republican leaders had come up with a plan to raise teacher pay in North Carolina was not unexpected.

The basics, that its primary focus would be on new teachers and starting salaries, had been making the rounds for a while.

The only real question was whether the relevant parties — legislative leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory — would be working from the same script or pushing competing ideas. With everyone heading to McCrory’s old stomping grounds of Jamestown, outside of High Point, for the announcement, the daggers were sheaved.

For the time being, a governor and legislative leaders of the same political party seem to have recognized that what is good politically for one is usually good for all.

The plan that all are touting would raise the pay of public school teachers who are in their first five years to $35,000. Those teachers, minus local salary supplements, are now paid a base salary of $30,800.

Because the pay increase would also boost the salaries of teachers in their sixth and seventh years in the classroom, roughly 24,000 of the state’s 95,000 teachers would benefit, according to the documents obtained by the Associated Press.

The cost of the plan is estimated at $100 million in the first year and $200 million in year in the second.

For beginning school teachers, the two raises would amount to a 13-percent pay hike.

The GOP leaders’ push to raise teacher pay follows three years in which their actions, including the approval of private school vouchers, public school budget cuts and the phasing out of teacher tenure, have caused critics to accuse them of being anti-public schools and anti-public school teacher.

Walk into just about any public school building in the state, and you will find that sentiment does not stop with partisan critics. A lot of public school employees are angry.

Assuming the state has the money to put the pay plan in place, there is no reason that it should not fly through the legislature.

But will it cool that anger?

For that to happen, teachers and the broader public will have to see the pay raises as more than a cynical attempt in an election year to prod voting margins in the Republicans’ favor.

To see it as more will require that McCrory and GOP leaders frame the pay raises as part of a larger vision that seeks to carefully improve public schools and not undermine them.

To his credit, Senate leader Phil Berger’s education policy has been mostly about trying to improve public schools.

But Berger’s overly ambitious plan to eliminate teacher tenure, against a backdrop of hostile rhetoric, may have done as much to anger teachers as anything.

The House, meanwhile, seems content to let public schools suffer whatever fate comes about from the fullest embrace of the school choice movement.

Teacher raises or not, walking back from that will not be easy in 2014.

Capitol Press Association

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