Commissioner candidates split over teacher pay

“It is the responsibility of the Legislature to fund teacher pay,” District 2 incumbent Democrat Ellen Frost declared at the July 30 Council of Independent Business Owners candidate forum.

Ellen Frost (file photo)

But though most school funding comes from the state, the county does provide a supplement each year, usually about 20 percent of total school funding. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, for example, local sources (mostly Buncombe County) provided nearly $54 million of the school system’s $244.5 million budget.

The county can also choose to contribute additional funds. In the current budget, the commissioners approved $1.2 million to cover a teacher pay raise state lawmakers were expected to approve, which would also apply to teachers whose salaries are paid by the county, and $575,000 to help the county schools retain teacher assistants whose jobs might otherwise be cut.

Frost, however, maintained that “While county pay increases may work in the short term, in the long term we would be putting teacher pay raises entirely on the backs of Buncombe County taxpayers.”

Nancy Waldrop (file photo)
Nancy Waldrop (file photo)

District 3 unafilliated candidate Nancy Waldrop, a former teacher, concurred, saying, “We don’t want to see the county take over the state’s role. Nobody wants to see North Carolina at the bottom of the teacher pay scale, but the county only has property and sales tax dollars to fund teacher pay, and tax dollars are not infinite. We need to work closely with the Legislature to find solutions, but … the worst thing would be to have a pay raise one year and rescind it the next.”

According to Frost, the school supplement alone accounts for about 5 cents of the property tax (currently 56.9 cents per $100 of assessed value).

Christina Merrill (file photo)
Christina Merrill (file photo)

But Republican Christina Merrill, who’s challenging Frost in District 2, said: “What I want to do as commissioner is find out where the money is. So if the state does increase the pay raise … there is money that can be used. As a mother whose children went through county schools, I know how important it is that teachers are paid well for what they do.”

District 3 Republican candidate Miranda DeBruhl said the county has enough money to consistently fund teacher raises regardless of what the Legislature does. “We just have to get our priorities straight; money is fungible.”

“Above all,” said Waldrop, “teachers want to be treated fairly and respected. They don’t want to be used as political grandstanding.”

Miranda DeBruhl (file photo)

Meanwhile, after weeks of wrangling, state lawmakers released a final budget July 30 that included a teacher pay raise averaging 7 percent. As this issue went to press, however, the full Legislature hadn’t yet approved the budget and the governor hadn’t signed it.

What this means for the county schools is not entirely clear at this point. But if there’s one thing all the candidates seemed to agree on, it’s that the issue of teacher pay isn’t going away anytime soon.

For more on the candidates and the forum, see our additional article here.



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One thought on “Commissioner candidates split over teacher pay

  1. “The state sets the base pay for our teachers, and this has an included extra amount paid out each year (after 10 years of teaching) called longevity pay. The new raises included in the budget is on top of that extra amount, and under the proposed budget plan, the process is reformed and simplified by folding the extra longevity pay back into the new base pay. By rolling longevity pay into base pay, it gives the public a more honest accounting of what our teachers receive from the state. The chart below shows the raises from the state that each teacher will receive next year (in green) over what they currently receive (in blue), based on how many years they have taught school. The new average base salary (including longevity pay and the new pay raises) is $49,117 — now the fourth highest in the southeast. (When you divide $49,117 by the total number of weeks spent working (44), you get an average new weekly wage of $1,116. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average weekly wage across North Carolina was just $673 in 2012. In most counties, it is significantly lower.)…”

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