Emotions ran high when the N.C. Board of Education got a report on the state of teacher pay this week.
WCNC reporter Stuart Watson, who covered the Raleigh meeting, told me about a young teacher weeping as she talked about colleagues being forced to leave the profession to earn a living. Board member John Tate of Charlotte was stewing as he drove home.
Among the facts presented by Alexis Schauss, director of school business for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
* Four years of frozen teacher pay means that 14,550 teachers -- almost one in five -- are now at the lowest pay level. In 2008-09, a teacher with five years' experience made $35,580 in base pay. Today, because experience-based "steps" were frozen during the recession, five-year teachers make $31,220.
* North Carolina's teachers are falling ever further from the national average, with the state currently ranked 46th.
* N.C. teachers' average pay has increased only 8.3 percent from 2002-13 to 2011-12. All other Southeastern states have seen gains between 16 and 38 percent during those years. Currently only West Virginia and Mississippi rank below North Carolina in the Southeast.
*It would cost about $420 million to restore the state's 95,000 teachers to the pay levels they should have reached during the frozen years.
Tate noted that not only are teachers getting pinched in the pocketbook, but they're feeling the burden of jobs cut to save money. Tate voiced his frustration at the large number of young teachers who are being driven out, not because they're failing to teach children but because they're failing to earn a living.
So what did the state board do? Nothing.
"We could pass a resolution saying, 'We're screwing our teachers,' " said Tate, who has never been one to mince words. "But the power of the purse string lies in the General Assembly."
Leaders of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools have voiced much the same frustration. Superintendent Heath Morrison and several board members say they want to pay teachers more, but the district gets its money from county, federal and especially state government.
Decision-makers in Raleigh are talking about ways to revise teacher pay (see the end of the presentation linked above). They're talking about accountability and flexibility for local districts. But a tax hike to boost teachers' paychecks? Not something I've heard.