For Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the Senate's sweeping plan to raise and revamp teacher pay has officials scrambling to sort out its implications.
At a news conference less than 24 hours after seeing the plan, Superintendent Heath Morrison was quick to say he's "very grateful" that the Senate has proposed raises that would make a real difference in North Carolina's national standing and teachers' ability to earn a living wage. "We certainly support that increase at the state level being as high as possible," he said.
But he noted that Gov. Pat McCrory's budget and the Senate's are substantially different, with the House version yet to come. Both plans revealed so far contain significant changes in pay and other conditions for teachers, and Gov. Pat McCrory is already raising challenges about the Senate's plan for education.
That means huge unanswered questions as CMS and other districts prepare for a budget year that starts July 1 and a school year that starts Aug. 25. Morrison said he worried about the tradeoffs in the Senate plan; CMS stands to lose 900 teacher assistants, 77 teachers, $3.8 million in transportation money and $200,000 for central offices, he said.
Morrison, an unaffiliated voter who tries to stay out of partisan crossfire, said he's not opposed to rethinking tenure (he prefers to call it due process), but prefers that such a discussion would have happened more deliberately, with educators involved. The Senate plan came out late Wednesday and is expected to be approved by week's end.
But Senate leader Phil Berger told me Thursday afternoon that he and other GOP senators have been listening for three years, since they took control of the General Assembly. The biggest message from educators, parents and policymakers, he said, is that teachers are the most important factor in children's education, and North Carolina's low national ranking for teacher pay threatens public education.
"We've heard loud and clear the complaints that we're in the 40s, and not even the high 40s, on teacher pay, and that has become an embarrassment for the state," he said. He said the Senate plan would move North Carolina up to 27th -- assuming every teacher chooses to give up tenure and move onto the higher pay track with year-to-year contract. "It is critical for North Carolina to move ahead and to do everything we can to improve outcomes in public education. Teachers are at the center of that."
Berger said his party made tough choices to make a big raise possible, including sacrificing teacher assistants. But he said party leaders have also made concessions, such as letting teachers keep tenure if that's what's most important to them. (Not all teachers are grateful; N.C. Association of Educators President Rodney Ellis said it amounted to treating teachers like "political pawns in an election year," and suggested tenure provided the protection teachers needed to speak up about the problems with low pay.)
Berger said changes in the Read to Achieve Act also show that GOP leaders have been listening and learning. He said the revisions approved Wednesday preserve the focus on getting third-graders up to grade level in reading while responding to legitimate concerns, such as the previous lack of flexibility in setting up summer reading programs. "We listened to those concerns," Berger said.
|Grundy at General Assembly|
And state Superintendent June Atkinson, a Democrat, released a statement lauding a "long overdue" major raise for teachers, but saying that the Senate's education budget "continues to undercut support for teachers and for learning."
Update: A Winthrop professor just tweeted me a link to this blog post berating N.C. legislators for offering the "raises or tenure" tradeoff. "Curmudgucation," by a self-described grumpy old teacher, says the real message is that teachers can't make a career here and that North Carolina now has "the worst legislature in all of America."