Teacher Pay-Raise Plan Draws Friendly Fire in N.C.

By Deborah L. Cohen — March 22, 1989 3 min read

A proposal by Gov. James G. Martin of North Carolina to increase the state sales tax in order to raise teachers’ salaries has drawn opposition from members of his own party.

The Republican Governor this month unveiled a package of teacher-pay reforms that would unfreeze salary scales that have been held in place since 1982, and phase in a 6-percent salary increase beginning this July.

Starting teachers would be paid $19,120 under the plan, and those with 29 years’ or more experience would earn $31,380, with an additional 5 percent for those with a master’s or higher-level degree.

The Governor, however, said he would back a 1-cent sales-tax increase to fund the initiatives only if the legislature approved his plan to begin statewide implementation of a program that provides additional pay increases based on performance.

The legislature must decide this spring whether to expand the state’s controversial “career development” program, which is now being pilot- tested in 16 districts. (See Education Week, Feb. 1, 1989)

Although some educators and legislators applauded the Governor for proposing a funding mechanism to back his initiatives, 30 Republican legislators issued a statement last week opposing a sales-tax increase.

Delay School Reforms?

The group argues that the state should “cut spending and redirect budget priorities,” rather than raise taxes, to fund proposals advanced by the Governor on teacher pay as well as road construction.

“We do not need to raise taxes for teachers’ pay and roads,” the Republican legislators said.

To help pay for salary increases, the legislators recommended delaying full implementation of the state’s Basic Education Plan. The program, now in its fourth year of operation, is slated to reduce class size, increase course offerings, and provide for the hiring of 25,000 teachers, support personnel, and administrators by 1992.

Mr. Martin has strongly supported keeping the program on schedule. But his Republican colleagues suggested last week that the money would be better spent on teacher pay.

“Should $113 million a year flow to our teachers and roads, or be used to expand without review the questionable and controversial Basic Education Plan?” the group asked.

“We believe it is more important to pay teachers who are already there to do a good job,” said Representative James A. Pope of Raleigh.

The group also proposed a series of cuts in state spending, including a $57,000 cut in the state’s school-facilities fund.

The Governor does not favor the Republican legislators’ alternatives, but has “never asked them to do anything but vote with their conscience and give [his] program an objective vote,” said Lee Monroe, Mr. Martin’s senior education adviser. “Often people of the same political party disagree on an approach.”

Mixed Reactions

The Governor’s tax-increase proposal has also drawn a mixed reaction from Democratic legislators.

“They are using words like ‘bold’ and ‘necessary,’ but they are saying they must proceed with it with caution,” Mr. Monroe said. “I haven’t heard anybody jump and say, ‘We support it.”’

“Governor Martin is to be commended for proposing a way to fund his proposals for state-employee and teacher salary increases,” said House Speaker Josephus L. Mavreel10ltic. But his chief assistant, Tim Kent, noted that the speaker “hasn’t endorsed” a tax increase.

Karen Garr, the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, praised the Governor last week for “opening the debate on taxes, which was a very courageous thing to do.”

But she said new funds to raise teachers’ pay should not be linked to expansion of the career-ladder program, which the union opposes.

Ms. Garr also said the union was concerned about the Republican legislators’ proposal to delay implementation of the b.e.p. “We’ve seen things get on hold before,” she said. “They never reappear.”

John Dornan, president of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, a nonprofit corporation that represents many business, civic, government, and education groups in the state, said he was “delighted” by the Governor’s teacher-pay proposals. If approved, he said, the measures would “sustain the momentum” of school reform and provide needed funds to expand the career-ladder program and the b.e.p.

But he voiced concern about a proposal the Governor has said he is considering to eliminate the state’s sales tax on food.

Mr. Dornan also noted that the outlook for further school reforms will remain clouded until the legislature resolves key budget issues.

“Republicans are balking at a tax increase and people in both parties are seriously questioning the career ladder and the basic-education plan,” he said. “It’s a very mixed situation.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 22, 1989 edition of Education Week as Teacher Pay-Raise Plan Draws Friendly Fire in N.C.