School board OKs implementation of state budget

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Although official numbers have yet to come down from the state Department of Public Instruction, the New Hanover County Board of Education approved changes to bring the county’s spending plan in line with the state budget during an Aug. 5  meeting

Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley outlined the changes handed down from the 2014-15 state budget, passed to Gov. Pat McCrory from the General Assembly on Aug. 2 after weeks of back-and-forth about pay raises for North Carolina teachers.

Mary Hazel Small, New Hanover County Schools chief financial officer, said a formal budget amendment will be presented to the board during a September meeting but authority to prepare for the coming school year was needed.

Salary hikes and longevity pay changes

Teachers were awarded an average raise of 7 percent in the budget, with actual increases ranging from 0.3 to 18.5 percent.

Beginning teachers will receive the largest raises while more experienced teachers will see less, but Small said the most experienced teachers will remain the highest paid.

“Clearly the teachers with more experience are still the highest paid teachers. They’re just not getting as much of a raise this year because [legislators]were catching up the lower paid teachers who had not had a raise in six years,” Small said during an Aug. 6 phone interview.

The school board discussed offering local supplements, if needed, to award all teachers a minimum 3 percent increase before final numbers were released, but Small said the cost of implementing the state’s budget will sap the county’s financial resources.

“We don’t have the funding to do that because the cost of the state raise on our local budget is really substantial,” Small said.

The state guarantees a salary for some teachers while the county pays others. Small said the county generally shifts more experienced teachers with higher salaries onto the state’s tab, so the county has to accommodate the cost of bigger raises for newer teachers.

Longevity pay is incorporated into the new salaries. Bonus pay based on years of service was previously awarded in one lump sum the month after a teacher’s anniversary of hire.

“The new salary schedules sort of replaced longevity, but it didn’t take anything away. It just added it to the pay scale…so there won’t be a separate longevity payment,” Small said.

The changes are retroactively effective July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year, so employees paid on a 12-month schedule will be reimbursed for salary boosts approved in August for July in a September paycheck.

Teachers will be reimbursed in September for the proportion of longevity pay accrued since the last lump sum was awarded through June 30 as the school system transitions to a new system where longevity is incorporated into monthly paychecks.

Eligibility for master’s pay raise expanded

The budget also provided funding to implement revised rules offering raises for teachers who earned or worked toward a master’s degree.

In 2013, the General Assembly passed a controversial measure preventing teachers with master’s degrees from receiving a 10 percent salary increase.

Under the revised rules, teachers paid for earning an advanced degree before July 1, 2014 will continue to draw the 10 percent raise and teachers who completed a graduate course by Aug. 1, 2013 and qualified under the policy in effect June 30, 2013, before the change was approved, will be grandfathered into the boosted pay schedule.

More teachers, less teacher assistants

The state budget reduced the teacher-to-pupil ratio in kindergarten through third grade, allocating $1.2 million to hire 26 new teachers in New Hanover County. At the same time, the budget decreases funding for teacher assistants by 22 percent, a loss of $1.7 million or 50 positions to the county schools.

With less than a month until the next school year begins, administrators chose to gradually hire more teachers and to  leave vacant teacher assistant positions that open up after Jan. 1, 2015.

“We’re so close to school starting and we have all those positions hired, so we’ll continue this year as we had planned. Then starting in January, we will not fill vacancies and over time, we’ll add more teachers and less teacher assistants,” Small said.

email miriah@luminanews.com

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