If you’ve followed the news about North Carolina teacher pay over the last few months you might think educators are feeling a bit better about their paychecks as schools open.
You’d be wrong. They’ve been promised raises, but so far they haven’t gotten a penny of extra pay.
The state House and Senate want to give teachers raises. The governor is pushing for an even bigger bump. And in Mecklenburg County, commissioners even gave Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools an extra $8 million to boost teacher pay for the 2019-20 school year.
But the budget year began July 1, and so far teachers’ 2019 raises have come to zero.
That’s tough for teachers like Amanda Thompson and her colleagues at Walter G. Byers K-8 School in Charlotte.
"One of the things that we want to do is get our rooms decorated for our new kids, get classroom supplies, and so, you know, we are steadily spending our own money, daily," she said. "Like me myself, I’ve probably spent over $315 just on minor things that make my room look aesthetically like more than a government-funded desk and smartboard."
The problem is that legislators and Gov. Roy Cooper can’t agree on a budget. They’re deadlocked on issues like Medicaid expansion, but they also have different views of how big teacher raises should be and how to distribute the money.
For now, all state employees are being paid on last year’s pay scale.
But Thompson wishes Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools would at least start handing out the money county commissioners already approved. The boost to the local supplement is supposed to push CMS teachers past counterparts in other North Carolina districts.
"I would love for them to go ahead and give at least the county supplement, go ahead and get that raise to us, 'cause that would at least give us a bump up," she said.
CMS says it can’t do that because local supplements are given as a percentage of the state pay scale. In other words, teachers don’t get one flat rate from the county but a bump that depends on experience, credentials and what state lawmakers decide this year.
State officials say other districts are also holding off on local raises for the same reason.
It’s not unheard of for North Carolina’s budgets to be approved weeks – or even months – after a fiscal year or a school year begins. Generally that means raises are retroactive – employees get an extra big check after the budget passes to make up for the pay they missed.
But will that be the case this year? Last week CMS sent employees a letter about the budget delay, saying only that raises and the effective dates for those raises will be announced later.
Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, says 2019 raises will probably be retroactive to July 1.
"Typically what we’ve done in the past is paid on this year’s salary schedule and then once a budget is passed it is retroactive and teachers are back-paid by July 1," he said. "But we don’t really have a guarantee of that."
The frustration goes beyond educators, Jewell says. He says the lack of a state budget creates uncertainty about school staffing, textbooks and technology.
"Parents and community members across the state of North Carolina are very concerned, regardless of their political party," Jewell said. "They’re not happy that their schools are going back into session and they have no idea of how to plan for resources or staffing or salaries."
So, when can we expect a budget?
Charlie Jeter, a former state legislator who works as governmental liaison for CMS, ventured a few predictions in his Friday newsletter. He suggested the budget could drag on into December. But Jeter says there’s talk of passing some “microbudgets” to settle matters such as teacher pay earlier.
"We’ve heard the same thing that you have," Jewell said, "that there’s going to be some type of like mini-budget proposal from Speaker Moore that’s going to put forward addressing salaries, and we haven’t seen what that salary schedule’s going to look like."
Jewell worries that a mini-budget would look more like the legislative conference plan, with pay hikes that range from about 1-6%, than like the governor’s budget, with teacher raises averaging 9% over the next two years.
So, for the immediate future, 2019 is exactly like 2018 when it comes to teacher pay.
Thompson says she can’t help thinking about the lessons her math team is preparing to help Byers students budget their money. It’s hard for those teachers to manage their own budgets, she says, when they don’t know what they’ll be paid.