Commentary

Tom Forcella: What is a teacher worth?

April 4, 2014 

Recent years have seen a growing rift between state legislators and the public schools. The chasm continues to widen over issues such as vouchers, charter schools, curriculum, calendar limitations, career status and funding.

I would like to address two recent announcements that have caused a strong reaction among educators statewide.

The governor unveiled a plan to address the low pay received by North Carolina teachers. I believe his intentions are genuine. He recognizes that our universities do not provide enough teaching candidates to fill all the vacancies throughout our state, making it imperative to recruit out-of-state candidates. However, being ranked number 46 (among the 50 states) in average teacher salary makes recruitment especially difficult. Additionally, the national reputation our state has earned for passing legislation that is harmful to public schools makes it hard to convince a recent college graduate to come to North Carolina and set up a career.

Unfortunately, the plan only increases pay for teachers at the beginning levels – years zero through five.

While the governor’s plan does raise the beginning salary to a much more competitive level, it both ignores and causes other compensation problems. All of our hard-working teachers, who have been waiting six years for a raise, feel slighted that the new teachers, without any experience, will now make nearly the same salary as an eighth-year teacher. These experienced teachers often serve as formal and informal mentors to our beginning teachers.

The second related issue concerns the Appropriation Act of 2013 which includes legislation that requires school boards and superintendents to identify 25 percent of teachers for a $500 bonus based on merit. The legislation does not provide a method for determining the “top” 25 percent, nor is it rooted in any widely accepted research supporting such a plan.

To the contrary, many similarly constructed merit pay plans have been attempted and have failed in school districts across the country over the last 20 years.

The Act has reduced funding in many budget lines and permanently eliminated the discretionary reduction, but did so by reducing teacher positions, teacher assistants and other school supports.

So, why add, on top of all these reductions, a flawed merit pay system along with a pay increase that impacts such a small percentage of the teaching workforce? Merit pay systems, quite simply, pit teacher against teacher and rarely improve student achievement.

The district’s 2013-18 Long Range Plan offers a strategy that will reward professional growth and improvement rather than simply years of service. We are in the initial stages of creating a compensation model that will provide opportunities for career advancement while positively impacting instructional practice and creating dynamic learning environments.

To that end, our Board of Education, at its March 20 meeting, unanimously passed a resolution calling for the legislature to repeal SL 2013-36, SB 402, Sec. 9.6 and allow it to retain its prorated share of the funds allocated for the 25 percent contract to be used in implementation of a locally-developed, effective, long-term compensation plan tied to career paths, with input from the education and business community.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools administrative team greatly respects and values our staff members – and believes they are all deserving of an increase in compensation … and now is the time for creative solutions.

Tom Forcella is the superintendent of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

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