Scott Mooneyham: McCrory ambitious on teacher pay, but questions linger

By Scott Mooneyham

Syndicated columnist

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RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory mentioned the word himself when he announced his pay plan for teachers: respect.

A lot of teachers around the state don’t feel like they have received much of that R-E-S-P-E-C-T from state policymakers lately.

McCrory’s teacher pay plan might help to salve some of those wounds.

By and large, the plan received positive reviews from the education establishment.

It is a fairly sweeping proposal that includes an earlier idea floated by McCrory and legislative leaders to provide a substantial boost in pay to teachers in the first seven years of their career.

McCrory would expand on that plan to provide more experienced teachers with pay raises averaging 2 percent immediately. (He also wants to give other state employees a flat $1,000 pay hike.)

He would then revamp the entire teacher pay scale over a four-year period, consolidating experience-based pay steps while providing more money based on experience, performance, other accomplishments, and work in high-demand subject areas and hard-to-staff schools.

The more substantial changes would first be the subject of a pilot project in a handful of school systems, with a goal of putting them into place statewide by 2018.

The immediate tab would come to $274 million.

Legislative leaders, even though they were not consulted about McCrory’s latest ideas, were cautious when it came to criticizing the plan.

Why wouldn’t they be? They don’t want any more teacher ire directed their way.

Senate leader Phil Berger said he expects state lawmakers to go beyond increasing pay for beginning teachers, but he did not commit to following the McCrory path.

That shouldn’t bother McCrory. He has tossed them something.

They can carry it , fumble it, or change the play.

One reason that it is difficult to predict what they will do is that the state is not in great financial shape right now.

The McCrory administration, legislative leaders and conservative think tanks have tried to downplay the projected $445 million in red ink, which is largely the result of underestimating the effects of last year’s tax overhaul.

They are correct that covering the shortfall in the current fiscal year is not a huge problem.

Legislators left $250 million unappropriated in the current budget. Other reserves can be tapped to finish filling the hole.

But that unrealized revenue has to be factored into next year’s budget; and the $250 million that would have been applied to next year’s budgeting will be gone.

Meanwhile, State Budget director Art Pope talks about 1.7 percent budget growth being sufficient.

That figure represents about $340 million on a $20 billion state operating budget.

It’s not very much when you also have to pay for increases in school enrollment and health care inflation as it affects the Medicaid program.

And if the off-target cost estimates of the tax overhaul turns out to be more than a one-year, temporary effect, what will that mean for those future plans to help teachers?

But who would argue with raising teacher pay?

Capitol Press Association

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