Last week, North Carolina freshman Sen. Gene McLaurin walked into a Stanly County high school gymnasium for a chat. He asked the group of roughly 400 students how many might be interested in becoming teachers.
“About four or five people raised their hands,” McLaurin said. “Now that’s not good. (Low) teacher pay is a big part of that.”
Low pay, and action by lawmakers in the General Assembly this past legislative session are reasons why the North Carolina Association of Educators is supporting a “walk-in” on Monday. Along with wearing red, those in support of teachers and others charged with molding young minds are to enter their school buildings together.
Wayne Webb is a retired teacher and a former NCAE local and district president. He currently serves the NCAE as vice president of the group’s retirement division. Webb said he doesn’t expect there to be much of a fuss on the issue, on either side, in Richmond County.
He said NCAE’s membership in Richmond County once included more than 450 members but it has dwindled in recent years.
“A lot of people would feel uncomfortable taking a stand,” said Webb, noting some teachers might feel their job could be in jeopardy if they participate.
Rodney Ellis, NCAE president, said the walk-in is intended to be a “show of solidarity in the morning.”
He said members of the community, parents and elected officials are invited to be a part of the day. McLaurin said he plans to be at Mineral Springs Elementary School in the early afternoon.
McLaurin, who voted against the proposed budget that slashed tenure from teachers and cut allowances for teachers who wanted to pursue a master’s degree, said he realizes something needs to be done. North Carolina once ranked 25th in the country in teacher salaries; it’s now 46th, and McLaurin said he suspects the next calculation could bring that ranking among the 50 states and Washington D.C. even lower.
Part of the issue is merit pay for teachers. Even McLaurin said he’s “open to some type” of merit pay but, to date, no satisfactory formula has been proposed.
“I think it’s got to be fair,” he said.
Webb said that in the last legislative session, “educators kind of came out on the short end of the stick.”
McLaurin called the decision to cut funding for professional development “a step backward.”
Some teachers, Webb said, are beginning to “question whether they can afford to remain as teachers.”
One of the legislative changes revolves around tenure — which, Webb noted, does not mean that a teacher cannot be fired but that the teacher would be entitled to due process before being terminated. Up to 25 percent of teachers will be eligible for a raise, but who selects those teachers and based on what criteria remains unknown.
Webb called it a “pay for performance” approach. He acknowledged, though, that “all teachers are not born equal.”
He also indicated it might be unfair to some teachers. From one year to the next, the makeup of students can drastically alter how effective a teacher can be.
Webb also felt that a salary increase to only 25 percent of teachers could make classroom teachers compete with each other instead of work together. McLaurin agreed.
“We need to encourage teachers not to compete with one another” but focus instead on collaboration, McLaurin said.
“There is no easy solution to this,” McLaurin said.
McLaurin said he felt that all of these education-related priorities can be funded — within the existing state budget. While no clear answer has come about, of this he is sure:
“I’m not in favor of raises taxes.”