Teachers in North Carolina are balking at a $350 bonus proposed by lawmakers in a new state budget, despite a nationwide depression that’s left millions jobless.
In places like Hawaii, teachers are preparing for a 20 percent pay cut, while in California and other states, thousands are expected to face layoffs in the new financial reality.
But in North Carolina, some lawmakers are proposing a $350 bonus for educators, though “education leaders” contend it’s not nearly enough, WFMY reports.
“Our hardworking educators are doing distance-learning, working twice as long and twice as hard as they ever have, and are basically told they are worth $350,” Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, told the news site. “These are educators who basically haven’t had a decent pay raise since the recession.”
Jewell’s sour attitude about the bonus comes just days after he acknowledged the state’s tight budget situation and told WRAL school employees are banking on the federal government to shore up the shortfall.
“We’re going to have a huge budget shortfall over the next two years due to a possible depression because of COVID-19. We’re looking to Congress right now, particularly in the Senate, where the HEROS bill has stalled,” Jewell said. “We need federal resources immediately to help with PPE equipment, safety initiatives, and also saving jobs, making sure we have a school nurse, a counselor, a third-grade teacher in the classroom.”
Two days later he issued a prepared statement blasting the teacher pay bonus as slap in the face.
“The disrespect being shown to educators in this pay bill (SB 818) is egregious. Educators have been on the front lines of this pandemic from the beginning, making the meals, adapting the curriculum, serving the food, and checking in on their students’ emotional and physical well-being,” the statement read.
“We put our health, and the health of our families, as risk day after day, and yet this General Assembly only sees fit to give us a $350 bonus. All other state employees are still scheduled to get their 2.5 percent raise, on top of the 2.5 percent raise they received last year, when again, we received nothing. North Carolina educators were worth more last year, and we are worth more today.”
Teachers have rallied at the capitol for pay raises for the last two years without success, WFMY reports.
“This bill is just the latest example of the General Assembly shortchanging educators. A small one-time bonus of $350 is no substitute for the salary raise that our teachers deserve, especially during this pandemic,” Senator Michael Garrett wrote in a prepared statement.
“Public school employees transformed public education overnight and continue to support our children and families. Now is not the time to play politics, but that’s just what these Senators are doing by suggesting that the Governor pay further teacher bonuses with limited federal emergency aid dollars,” Garrett wrote. “Only the General Assembly can make this right by coming to the table and negotiating a budget that pays teachers what they are worth.”
The average teacher salary in North Carolina is $54,682 this school year, or roughly $72 more than last year, according to a report issued by the state Department of Public Instruction last month.
The average private sector wage in North Carolina is $51,758, based on data from the North Carolina Department of Commerce, Labor & Economic Analysis Division collected before the pandemic.
Six years ago, North Carolina was ranked 11th out of 12 Southeast states for teacher pay, but is now second behind only Georgia, The News & Observer reports.
Growth in teacher salaries in North Carolina was slower last year than in recent years at only 1 percent, which the news site blamed on “last year’s budget fight between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-led General assembly. Cooper, with the support of the N.C. Association of Educators, vetoed last year’s budget in part because he said the teacher raises were ‘paltry.’
“The budget fight left teachers with no state raises this school year,” The News & Observer reports.