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In North Carolina, Pay Raise, But No Career Ladder

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North Carolina lawmakers last month approved pay raises for teachers and offered school districts greater flexibility to use state funds, but declined to mandate statewide implementation of a career-ladder plan or cover the full cost of an ongoing education-improvement effort.

The legislature's 1989 session, which was marked by prolonged disputes over education funding and other issues, ended Aug. 12.

Legislators agreed on a new salary schedule that will give teachers, whose basic salary schedule has been frozen since 1982, raises averaging 6 percent in each year of the new biennium.

The results of the session also represented a victory for a group of business and education leaders, which had sought to free districts from what it described as cumbersome state regulations in exchange for greater accountability for student performance.

But Gov. James G. Martin, a Republican, suffered some setbacks on education-related issues at the hands of the Democratic-controlled legislature. Although Governor Martin supported the accountability measures, he lost bids for a 1-cent sales-tax increase and for statewide implementation of a pilot career-ladder program that was in its final year. (See Education Week, Feb. 1, 1989.)

Mr. Martin had sought the tax increase to finance the pay raise and other education initiatives, but the legislature drew revenue for the raises from a multi-year highway-construction project.

Tim Pittman, a spokesman for Mr. Martin, said the Governor was "pleased with the adoption of some of his ideas, but disappointed in the funding mechanisms."

Rather than putting the current "career development" program into place statewide, as Mr. Martin had proposed, legislators decided instead to provide incentives for districts to adopt their own programs to provide teachers with salary increases based on performance. The local plans must be approved by a majority of affected employees.

Legislators agreed to include the current program as one option from which districts entering into a voluntary merit-pay plan could choose. The career-development program, which has been operating as a pilot in 16 districts, will be funded for another year.

A highlight of the session for teachers was the revision of the their salary schedule. While teachers have received across-the-board increases in recent years, the basic pay scale has not changed since 1982. As a result, some teachers with several years of experience have remained on the same salary step as newer teachers.

"Legislators responded to us and gave us a new salary schedule that will sort out" inequities, said Julia P. Kron, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, the state's largest teachers' union.

The new, 30-step salary schedule will compensate teachers commensurate with their education and experience, she said. At the end of a three-year phase-in period, those whose salaries have been frozen the longest will have received the largest percentage increases.

Under the plan, a teacher with ten years of experience who earned $21,315 in the 1988-89 school year will earn $27,310 by 1992.

John Dornan, president of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, called the measure granting disticts greater flexibility and incentives for merit pay "the most far-reaching effort to decentralize school operations in this state in half a century."

The "performance-based accountability" program approved by the legislature allows participating districts more flexibility in the use of resources by reducing the number of funding categories used by the state and by granting waivers from cer8tain state rules.

Districts, in exchange, must submit educational-improvement plans with performance goals for students.

Under the bill, the state education department will provide technical assistance if a district fails to meet its goals after two years. The state board of education would decide what steps to take if the district did not achieve its goals after an additional year.

The measure is based on the recommendations of a Public School Forum study group composed of businessmen, legislators, and educators, who conducted a nine-month examination of the state's education system.

"Much of what is in this bill sounds terribly familiar to those involved in corporate restructuring," Mr. Dornan said. Within educational circles, however, it is "almost revolutionary," he said.

Mr. Dornan praised the legislature for giving districts the option to devise their own merit-pay systems, rather than duplicating the career-development program, which had come under fire from the ncae

"When you look at the history of mandated merit-pay plans, it is not a very cheery picture," he said.

Since the pilot was "exceedingly successful" in some districts but "failed miserably in others, it would not seem appropriate to implement it statewide," Ms. Kron said. She also cited problems with the evaluation system used to assess teachers under the plan.

Mr. Dornan noted, however, that it may be difficult for districts to reach a consensus among employees on a local merit-pay program. It will require "a great deal of collaborative and joint efforts to find a plan both teachers and administrators feel can be effectively administered," he said.

He also noted that the legislature appropriated only planning funds for the first year, with financial incentives set to begin next year.

Although he strongly backed the teacher-pay and accountability measures, Superintendent of Public Instruction Bobby R. Etheridge failed in his attempt to secure full funding for the fifth year of the Basic Education Program.

The eight-year, $800-million plan seeks to equalize state resources by hiring teachers, lowering class sizes, and providing additional courses in poorer school systems.

The legislature approved only $69 million of the $112 million scheduled for this year's installment of the b.e.p., but promised to make up for the loss in the second year of the biennium.

Mr. Etheridge was "pleased with the major accomplishments" of the session, "but disappointed that when it came to funding the b.e.p., potholes and paving roads proved to be more enticing than educating children," said W. Glenn Keever, his director of communications.

Although legislators have pledged to restore the funds for bep next year, "Hanging over us are very gloomy revenue projections," Mr. Dornan said. "Without a major tax increase next year, it will be very difficult" to fulfill that commitment.

That such an ambitious long-range plan has remained on track for five years "is fairly remarkable," Mr. Dornan noted. "The question now is whether that commitment is ebbing or this is a one-time delay."

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