Commentary

Commentary: Pay raise plan has far-reaching consequences

CommentaryJune 22, 2014 

Fourteen years ago, I took a leap of faith and left Massachusetts to come to North Carolina to continue my teaching career. North Carolina was making national news with the progressive educational policies they were developing. The state’s innovations in education called me. I was the envy of many of my colleagues and I was encouraged to take a position at Broughton High School.

Professionally, it was one of the best choices I could have made as a teacher. I have treasured my time in the classroom and was able to make ends meet even with the $2,000 pay cut I chose to take to move here. Times, however, have changed.

We experienced an economic downturn during which we were asked to tighten our belts. My colleagues and I took a pay freeze. We bide our time while the economy slowly recovered. We even were accepting of a 1.2 percent bump in our salaries which was then offset by an increase in taxes and an increase in workload.

That was in 2012. We continue to be asked to do more, but with fewer classroom resources, fewer faculty and staff, and fewer opportunities for professional development. We are professionals so we continue to teach, tutor, run after school programs, advise school clubs, coach athletics and conduct concerts. We do this because we have been called to teach.

Many do this in addition to working other jobs, such as retail or pool management, so they can make ends meet. How many other professionals, some of whom have earned more than one advanced degree, have to supplement their salaries in this way?

Now, the North Carolina State Senate has proposed a teacher raise of 11 percent which sounds really good on paper until you read the fine print.

In order to accept this increase, teachers must relinquish their career status which the legislature and, unfortunately, the media call “tenure.” That is a misnomer; it is due process, a right that is guaranteed by the United States Constitution.

School districts may dismiss “tenured” teachers only by a showing of cause, after following such procedural requirements as providing notice to the teacher, specifying the charges against the teacher, and providing the teacher with a meaningful hearing. This protects us from arbitrary dismissal.

To put it another way, the students (who have due process) would have more rights than those that teach them. Teachers would also be asked to give up their longevity pay — another pay cut. This pay raise is starting to sound like financial extortion, but wait. It gets worse.

In order to pay for this teacher raise, the legislature plans to make significant cuts in other areas of education. The legislature also wants to cut 7,400 teaching assistants – another misnomer. These individuals do not assist teachers, rather they assist the students. In many cases, they act as one on one coaches, seeking professional development they pay for out of their own pockets.

Though these assistants support students through high school, they are most needed in the lower grades where interventions for and recognition of students with special needs often occurs. Student assistants make sure that all students get the education to which they are entitled and they so richly deserve. If teachers accept this raise, we would be cutting off our nose to spite our face.

In addition to the cuts in education, the legislature wants to remove thousands from the Medicaid rolls. As a teacher, I have seen many students and their families enter Medicaid because of the economic downturn as many lost their jobs and many are still unemployed. How can I look at my students, my children, knowing that my raise may have eliminated a student and her family from Medicaid and inhibited their ability to get healthcare? I can’t. Could you?

Again, I am faced with a choice. I was called to teach and will do so without the 11 percent raise as proposed by the North Carolina Senate.

I cannot accept a raise while the General Assembly “robs Peter to pay Paul.” The price is too great.

It is time for us all to take a leap of faith in November. The voters of this state must make it clear that they are tired of the political wrangling and vote to make sure that North Carolina is making news again as a state that strongly values public education and the health and welfare of ALL its citizenry.

 

Christine Conley teaches at Broughton High School in Raleigh. Contact her via email at cconley@wcpss.net.

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