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An in-depth look at our region's emerging economic, social, political and cultural identity.

CMS Teachers, Parents Urge Commissioners To Pay For Raises

Credit Lisa Miller / WFAE
CMS recruited Alyssa Mannella from Pennsylvania seven years ago. Besides a bump for receiving her Master's, she's received one raise of one percent during that time.

Mecklenburg County commissioners are weighing whether to give CMS employees a raise out of the county’s pocket be that by paying the district an extra $26.7 million or asking voters to approve a quarter cent sales tax. A few hundred teachers showed up to a public hearing last night to make their case. 

CMS recruited Alyssa Mannella at a Penn State career fair seven years ago. 

“At the time it sounded great to come to North Carolina because they’re right in the middle for teacher pay.  It was the south.  It was warm,” she says.   

But Wednesday night she was part of a rally outside the government center with about three hundred CMS teachers trying to push commissioners to give CMS employees a raise. 

Mannella is an ESL teacher at Newell Elementary school in the University area.  She now makes $39,000 thanks to a pay bump after she received her master’s a few years go. If it hadn’t been for that, she’d be making $35,900, roughly the same as a first year teacher. 

“Since I moved here in 2007, we dropped from being in the twenties for teacher pay down to 46. It’s really disappointing and I want to show my support for all teachers in North Carolina,” said Mannella.

CMS has asked county commissioners to pay for a 3 percent raise for all CMS employees. Commissioners have been wary of using county money to do that.  They say that’s the state’s responsibility, although the county does supplement teacher salaries. 

But this week Commission Chairman Trevor Fuller suggested another way to pay for the raises. He wants to ask voters in November to approve a quarter cent sales tax. 

“We feel like it’s our duty at the county commission to do the best we can to find a sustainable plan to provide for appropriate teacher compensation,” says Fuller. “We think this is a sustainable way to do it and we are proposing to put this before the voters in November so that the voters can decide.”

That sales tax would raise between $30 and $35 million a year. Seventy-five percent of the money would go to boost salaries for all CMS employees. The rest would provide extra money for CPCC, the Arts and Science Council, and the library system. Many teachers like Myra Butler hadn’t heard much about the plan last night, but they said it sounds promising.

“The money has got to come from somewhere, whether it’s state, federal…the bottom line is I need money to pay my bills. If the county is truly being good stewards of our money and a sales tax is needed, then I’m for it,” said Butler.  

Many teachers also liked the House plan that would boost teacher salaries by 5 percent.  But they did not like the Senate plan that would raise pay on average 11 percent and cut the number of teacher assistants in half to help fund it. 

Commissioner Pat Cotham said she’d rather set money aside for raises and possibly tap that depending on what state lawmakers decide to do. She isn’t sure she’ll vote to put the extra sales tax on the ballot. 

“That concerns me. It’s a permanent thing,” said Cotham.

But Fuller says he has the votes to do it. 

Commissioners listened for several hours last night as people pushed for money for various things, including raising teacher pay.

Elyse Dashew with a local school advocacy group called Public School Friends urged commissioners to fund the raises. 

“The students of CMS are North Carolina’s responsibility, but they are also our own. Eighty percent of Mecklenburg County children attend CMS and 83 percent of CMS employees live here in Mecklenburg County. This is truly a pressing, local issue,” said Dashew.    

Connie Cabbs with the Mecklenburg PTA Council said raises would help CMS keep good teachers from moving to other states for higher pay. 

“Please do our children a favor and send Texas and other states a newsworthy message that says, ‘We too appreciate and can afford quality educators,’” said Cabbs. 

Commissioners plan to discuss the budget this afternoon and vote on a final one next Tuesday. 

Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.