When Megan Taber started her job at a middle school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, she was promised a modest salary increase for every year she worked. Now, after seven years in the classroom, she actually makes less than she did on her very first day, when inflation is taken into account.
“My story as a teacher began in 2007. As luck would have it, I was hired the same year teacher salaries were frozen. In my seven years as an educator, I have never received a step increase. Taking inflation into consideration, I make less today than the day I started,” Taber told a crowd of educators, students and community members at a town hall recently.
Throughout the past few years, North Carolina teachers have suffered a series of legislative blows that have eroded their hopes for making a salary that aligns with the national average. North Carolina teacher pay currently ranks 46th in the nation, and to add insult to injury, the legislative budget passed last summer not only froze teacher salaries for the fifth time in six years, but it ended teacher tenure and pay increases for teachers with advanced degrees.
Now, teachers and community members are waiting to see if the state General Assembly will change course on this issue when it goes back into session in May.
Since the state’s controversial budget was approved in July, teachers and public education advocates have rallied against the governor and majority Republican Legislature, and public opinion has gathered staunchly in their favor. In February, Gov. Pat McCrory and other state legislative leaders said they would introduce a plan to raise the base salaries of newer teachers from $30,800 to $35,000, but this promise has done little to ease the ire of public education supporters who wonder why veteran teachers are being left in the dust.
Some public education advocates are skeptical the state legislature will follow through on that plan at all. Mark Jewell, vice president of the North Carolina Association of Educators -– the union that represents teachers despite the state’s ban on collective bargaining -– told The Huffington Post that he thinks a recently enacted income tax cut is going to drain the funds available for such an initiative.
“There is really no money for schools now … they're not going to have money for anything,” Jewell said. “Even if they do throw us a crumb, like a 1 percent or 2 percent raise, it does not erase what they did last year which was … diverting public dollars to private schools, stripping teachers of their rights as a state employee.”
Earlier in April, McCrory told reporters the tax cut will have no bearing on whether or not teachers receive pay raises, according to North Carolina's the News & Observer.
“The tax bill is not going to be the major factor in our revenues in the future,” he said. “The major issues for our revenue projections are going to be a growing economy on the positive end and Medicaid costs on the negative end."
Yevonne Brannon, a leader of Public Schools First NC, is more optimistic. She told HuffPost she's confident that some sort of deal will be worked out, although she’s not sure how far it will go.
“Teachers have done a very effective job of getting the public engaged and trying to stop the mass exodus that we’re experiencing right now with our teachers leaving the profession,” Brannon said. “I do think we’ll see something done, I think its going to be number one on their agenda.”
In the meantime, concerned community members, like Deborah Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill assistant law professor whose kids attend Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, are trying to help teachers out with fundraisers and community events. Gerhardt helped organize the town hall where local teacher Megan Taber spoke in April, and she has been selling T-shirts to help put a few extra dollars in teachers' pockets.
“During the holiday time we raised enough money to give a 140 dollar bonus to every teacher in the middle school,” Gerhardt told HuffPost. “But that’s not going to prevent us from loosing our best teachers.”
Meanwhile, Taber –- who teaches middle school social studies and was recently named one of her school's Teachers of the Year -- told HuffPost that she’s not sure she’ll be able to stay at her job if the Legislature does not improve working conditions for public school teachers.
“I was hoping to have a long term career here, but I can’t currently claim that that’s going to be in the case if nothing changes,” she said.
CORRECTION: Megan Taber teaches at a middle school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. A previous version of the story said she taught at North Carolina's Chapel Hill middle school.