Docked for experienceTeacher raises skewed against veteran educators
Many legislators are heralding the recently approved state budget as offering teachers the highest pay raise in N.C. history, a salary hike that averages 7 percent.
But the word "average" is key in the discussion, and the amount of the pay raise varies significantly, depending on how long a teacher has been on the job.
This became apparent to Haywood County teachers after they received their first paycheck last month, a check that may have been slightly disappointing for many given the hype about the first raise school personnel were set to receive in six years.
It was certainly a surprise for Waynesville Middle School counselor Ken Newton, who has 43 years of experience, when he realized that his base salary would decrease about $3,500 this year.
Fortunately Newton will receive a $1,000 bonus that the state budget allotted this year to all teachers who have taught for 30 years or more, which softens the blow.
"The term 'raise' indicates that everyone gets a raise and the same raise, and this is absolutely not true,” Newton said. “The raises are incremental based on what year of the pay scale you are. It's different for everyone. … My concern as a veteran educator is that on the pay scale beyond year 29, there is no raise. That just discounts the value of veteran teachers and the experience that they bring to new teachers in the classroom."
"In my opinion, this is a veiled attempt to push out veteran teachers,” Newton added.
The state budget recently passed by the N.C. General Assembly earmarked $282 million for teacher salary increases. The former pay plan for teachers has been frozen since 2008 when the recession hit.
For the newest teachers in the public education system, the raise can be as much as 11 percent, but the most experienced teachers in Haywood County will notice just a small change from what they were already making.
Saying there has been a 7-percent average increase for teachers can be deceiving when eliminating longevity is factored in, Haywood County School administrators pointed out in a recent interview.
Teachers with 10 or more years of experience were eligible for an annual longevity salary increase — a lump sum payment each year based on how long a teacher had served. But with the new budget plan, the longevity pay has been replaced by the state’s pay raise.
Longevity is applied across the board within the state salary schedule, explained Anne Garrett, superintendent for Haywood County Schools, noting school personnel are part of the state salary plan. While raises were awarded to all employees, longevity was only stricken for teachers and instructional support personnel in the public school system. Other school employees, like administrators, have kept their longevity.
The change means teachers who were never eligible for longevity will receive a significant boost this year while teachers with more than 10 years of experience will receive a salary that’s the same or slightly different than what they’ve already been making through longevity.
“If you’re an experienced teacher with 25 plus years, you’ve lost your longevity but now it becomes part of your base salary,” said Bill Nolte, associate superintendent of Haywood County Schools. “It’s not a real raise because part of it is money that you already have.”
According to the longevity scale, teachers who have 10-14 years of experience would receive a longevity payment of 1.5 percent of their salary, teachers with 15-19 years experience would receive 2.25 percent, teachers with 20-14 years experience would receive 3.25 and a teacher with 25 years or more would receive a 3.5 percent longevity payment.
“A lot of our employees have virtually the same salary if they’ve been with us more than 10 years,” Nolte added. “If two people are doing similar jobs — one could work less and get paid more because of the state.”
WMS Media Coordinator Karen Kreitzburg is one teacher who will receive nearly the same salary this year as she did last year, with a raise of only 0.29 percent.
“This is my 29th year, so according to the current pay scale I am at the top of the scale with no pay increases,” she said.
Breaking it down
The largest raises will be for Haywood teachers who have been teaching 10 years or less, with the highest raises coming to the fifth or sixth year teachers. During these years, they will receive as much as an 18.4 percent bump.
However, teachers with 29-30 years may see a raise as low as 0.002 percent.
On average, Haywood teachers with less than 10 years will receive an 11 percent increase in base pay. According to the new pay scale, teachers with 11-14 years, on average, receive a 5.5 percent raise; teachers with 15-19 years experience will receive a 6 percent raise; teachers with 20-25 years of experience receive a 7.10 percent increase and teachers with more than 25 years will see a 4.3 percent increase.
“Our teachers who’ve got 30 years got a $148 raise,” said Angie Gardner, with the Haywood County Schools finance department. “It’s hurtful for me to look at the numbers and see some of our seasoned teachers only getting $148.”
The state average teacher salary is $43,342, but the average salary for Haywood County teachers is $40,187 because almost half of Haywood’s teachers are less experienced.
“On average, those with zero to 10 years got an 11 percent pay increase and that’s 45 percent of our teachers,” said Nolte. “That is a very good raise for them, but it does not help our budget locally at all.”
For now, Haywood County School officials are planning to fund the pay raises from its fund balance so other departments that have endured large cuts will not be set back.
The changes in the salary schedule have generated plenty of questions and mixed feelings amongst teachers. While some teachers are discouraged by their minuscule raise, others are pleased with their pay increase, but feel guilty at the same time.
Ashley Pompey, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Waynesville Middle School, received a 3 or 4 percent raise this year in her fourth year of teaching. It’s a boost she feels ambivalent about.
“It impacts me positively but I’m not sure how I feel about it because of the way it impacts the school budget overall,” Pompey said. “I’m happy I’m making more, but I think that especially when you think of the amount of responsibility the veteran teachers have, it really discounts them.”
Pompey said that the difference in raises has made it a little uncomfortable to discuss salaries with colleagues at school.
“There’s definitely a little awkwardness,” she said.
Robin Walker, a sixth-grade social studies teacher at Waynesville Middle School, has been teaching for 31 years and she recently learned that her salary didn’t go up at all. However, walker will receive the $1,000 bonus from the state to make up for her not receiving a raise.
“As a veteran teacher of 31 years, I felt personal disappointment that experience and loyalty were not acknowledged or valued by our state legislature,” Walker said. “The economic impact and cost of living are the same amount for the three-year teacher, as well as the 30-year teacher. So why would you only award the three-year position a salary increase?”
Walker also said she felt disappointment for the teaching profession as a whole and expects this change will put a damper on teacher recruitment.
“Needless to say, the impact of this inadequate wage will be felt for years to come due to the unattractive face placed on the profession to seek potential future individuals to a teaching career,” Walker said.
In addition, Walker said some students would ultimately be affected by the new plan because teachers will no longer be able to purchase items from their own pockets to help support the depressed economy of families in their classrooms and school budgets.
“I have observed the personal generosity of so many colleagues through the years ensure that students have lunch and breakfast, book bags, winter coats, PE clothes, tennis shoes, day to day supplies, etc.” Walker said. “This generosity is in proportion to salary restrictions and these cuts bleed onto the most precious treasure of the education process — our students.”
Alex Masciarelli, a Spanish teacher at Waynesville Middle School, has 14 years of experience and is expecting a 4 percent raise this year. Though he is grateful, he said the pay raise should be recognized for what it really is.
“When lawmakers took away longevity pay for teachers and dumped it into our regular salary, they used it to inflate our increases,” Masciarelli said, adding that more experienced teachers should be considered more valuable.
Masciarelli said he was worried about his salary in the future when his raise would plateau, potentially making it a challenge for him to afford college for his children.
“Considering salaries had been frozen for nearly six years, this (raise) was due several years ago," he said. "This is a start in the right direction, but does not fully address it. Experience makes you a better teacher.”