Last week Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Ann Clark made her 2017-2018 operating budget recommendation to the local board of education. The presentation revealed some sobering data including per-pupil spending (North Carolina is currently 12th out of 13 southeastern states in per-pupil expenditures, ahead of only Mississippi) and comparatively low local salary supplements (for teachers with over 20 years experience, other large districts in the state offer considerably larger supplements than Mecklenburg County).
But the figures that hit closest to home for me were those which compared salary increases with rising health benefits costs over the past several years.
In the run up to last fall’s elections, many of our state legislators were eager to talk about their support for increases in teacher compensation. While that talking point may have scored points with your average voter, local teachers can tell you that their pay stub paints a very different picture.
A Charlotte-Mecklenburg teacher with a starting salary of $35,000 in 2008 has seen pay increases of $2,647 up through the present. Over the same period, health insurance cost hikes of $3,892 have resulted in a net decrease in salary of nearly 4 percent. Those figures do not include adjustments for inflation, insurance deductibles, housing, or any other living expenses which have consistently risen over the past decade, so the reality is even more bleak.
Detractors will say that out of control health care costs are a problem that every industry deals with, as American as apple pie. However, education in North Carolina is mired in a unique crisis, with enrollment in our state university teacher preparation programs down 30 percent over the past five years and other states luring our teachers away with higher pay. We’re unlikely to avert the looming teacher shortage by asking people to commit to a career in which they are guaranteed a paycheck that shrinks each year.
If our leaders both in the General Assembly and in the Governor’s mansion are serious about attracting the best and the brightest to teach in North Carolina, it’s high time we include the cost of benefits in our conversations about teacher compensation. To laud pay increases that are eclipsed by soaring insurance premiums is simply putting lipstick on a pig.