State Sen. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, is defending comments he made to a Gates County teacher during a recent school visit that have generated controversy over the past couple of weeks.
The teacher — whose statements were forwarded to The Daily Advance by a different teacher who did not name the teacher in question — said he was especially insulted by Steinburg’s claim that he works harder than the teacher does.
The Daily Advance first became aware of the incident after being sent a copy of the teacher’s Facebook post. The post did not name the teacher, citing his request that his name not be used.
The Daily Advance has since identified the teacher as Gates County Elementary School teacher Russell "Rusty" Boyd.
“I asked about teacher salaries and raises and stated that due to inflation and small teacher raises (or no teacher raises) I feel I am not better off than 10 years ago and have struggled my entire 23-year career,” Boyd said in his original Facebook post about the incident.
Referring to Steinburg, who was visiting his school, Boyd went on: “He then asked me what was my salary. I had to think and told him what it was approximately. He then asked me what I thought his salary was. I said I couldn’t guess. He stated it was only $14,000 a year, and (that) he works harder than I do.”
Boyd said he took offense at Steinburg’s statement.
“I felt highly disrespected and stood up and walked out of the meeting,” Boyd said. “I told the principal I would return when she restarted the staff meeting and I didn’t appreciate being told he works harder than I do.”
Steinburg, who has already addressed the controversy over the incident on his Facebook page, said he wanted the teachers present at the Gates County school staff meeting to understand his commitment to improving their salaries.
“In a Q&A at one of the Gates County schools a male teacher said they can’t make it on the $46,000 he was making in salary,” Steinburg said. “I asked him what he was making ten years ago when Governor (Beverly) Purdue was freezing wages and laying off teachers, and how far we have come since then.”
Steinburg said he also cited a ranking by the National Education Association in August that showed North Carolina first in the Southeast in several metrics, including teacher pay increases, spending per pupil in K-12, and overall K-12 funding.
“I also asked if he knew what legislators make per year,” Steinburg said. “I told him $13,951 in salary with no raises since 1993.”
Steinburg said the reason he mentioned his own pay was to clarify for teachers that legislators have not been raising their own salaries instead of teacher salaries.
“In fact, teachers have received pay raises from the General Assembly for the last five years in a row, which would have been six years in a row had Gov. (Roy) Cooper not vetoed the budget with teacher pay raises in it,” Steinburg said. “Thus, they received no raise this year only because of the governor.”
In his social media post, Boyd also said Steinburg told the school principal that she should go after him and reprimand him. He said the principal told Steinburg, “you don’t tell me what to do.”
Steinburg confirmed that he had asked the principal to reprimand the teacher.
“When I finished speaking I told the principal that I thought the teacher who huffed out of the meeting was disrespectful and should be reprimanded for it,” Steinburg said. “Just because he didn’t like the truth shouldn’t have given him the right to do that.”
Steinburg said the N.C. Department of Public Instruction invited him to visit in Perquimans County Schools, Hertford County Schools and Gates County Schools to see what additional help they might need beyond what they have received from COVID-19 money.
“The fact that an incident like this is being blown up into a major incident is clearly political,” Steinburg said. “Few have done more for education over the last eight years in the General Assembly than I have. If I didn’t care about education, why would I have accepted DPI’s invitation in the first place?”
Steinburg is seeking re-election to his Senate District 1 seat in the Nov. 3 general election. He’s being challenged by Democrat Tess Judge of Dare County. Gates County is one of the 11 counties in the 1st Senate District.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the teacher, Russell "Rusty" Boyd's name.