Sixteen school districts confer with legislators Cook and Steinburg
By George Hague
The Northeast Regional Educational Alliance (NERESA) of eastern North Carolina, consisting of sixteen (16) school districts, held a joint Legislative forum at Elizabeth City State University with Senator Bill Cook and Representative Bob Steinburg attending. A long list of costly initiatives was put forward for the consideration of the Legislature, seeking to improve education with the main emphasis on pay and benefits to retain teachers.
This ranged from continue to support retirement and health insurance benefits, to a pay increase in order to retain the best teachers and administrators, to reinstatement of compensation for earning Masters and advanced degrees, to providing funds to develop teachers into effective career professionals.
Senator Cook stated that the teachers just received a 7 percent pay increase and that the average teacher earns $60,000 a year thanks to supplements that are included in that total. Representative Steinberg stated that 60 to 70% of the state budget goes to education and it would not be fair to the other state workers if teachers were the only ones to receive a raise. He also stated that local counties should do more to support their school systems.
The North Carolina state teacher turnover rate currently stands at 14.9 percent. Of this, 31 percent remain in education, such as transferring from Northeastern high school to Pasquotank high school, and 40 percent of the turnover rate was for personal reasons such as retirement. Our school systems face an aging workforce, which is the same problem that is faced by other industries in the United States.
One area on which the representatives agreed with NERESA, was that they should be allowed calendar flexibility so that the school system could grow partnerships with the Community College system. Another area of agreement was on the matter of students transferring to charter schools and coming back in the same school year. NERESA stated that if a student transfers back after the 12th day of the school calendar, the money does not come back with the student. Rep. Steinberg stated that the money should be prorated and be returned to the schools.
Representative Steinberg praised the NERESA for their professionalism and willingness to collaborate. He stated that one organization that claim to represent the schools was always confrontational and was no longer welcomed in many state offices.
There were a great many other details covered by this forum — encouraging from this reporter’s point of view, to see educators working to enlighten our state representatives in an orderly fashion.
Representative Steinburg mentioned, as has been discussed previously, that the ballot in the 2010 election included a provision for a ¼ cent increase in taxes that would be used to fund various expenditures within the school system. That measure was soundly defeated. So when teacher organizations seek additional funding from the legislature, they might do well to remember this example. Many people talk about wanting more money for schools, but when you ask them to pay for it in increased taxes, they suddenly look at it differently. With the amount of money that the state is putting into education, as stated above, there is little additional money available for funding the rest of government operations without an increase in taxes. Sometimes, it is also true, that it is not how much money you have to spend but how much money you spend effectively, achieving the maximum result for the least cost. As an example, the local school system spent $475,000, to replace the air conditioning system at the Northeastern High School gymnasium. Last year, they were seeking $80,000 to replace the air conditioning chiller. How they got from $80,000-$475,000 is a mystery at this point. Documents have been requested, some of which have been received while others are still in the midst of being turned over for review. Hopefully, we will soon know the answer to this question.