Maybe it’s the name. A “Task Force” conjures up an image of a group of people rushing in, grabbing a problem around the neck, and wrestling a solution out of it.
Any notion that that might happen with the Educator Effectiveness and Compensation Task Force was doused with cold water by co-chair Rob Bryan when he presented the group’s final report.
“Really, what I think you see in our final report is largely a set of goals and principles to be applied as a specific plan is created, hopefully as soon as possible,” Bryan said.
Almost everyone wants to see the outdated teacher salary schedule reformed.
“Nobody outside of education wants that anymore,” said State Senator Jerry Tillman, referring to a salary system based solely on years of experience “That’s why we’ve got to reform this pay, and as hard as it is, that’s why we’ve got to give some credit for achievement. So, therein lies the big problem.”
That “big problem” is determining who are the best teachers. This report didn’t try to tackle that thorny issue – instead suggesting it be further researched.
What was in the report – and is most likely to pass the Legislature this spring – is a plan to pay beginning teachers more.
The Task Force report re-states support for a plan already offered by Governor Pat McCrory back in February.
That plan didn’t sit too well with many teachers when it was proposed, and it hasn’t improved the morale for teachers with more than ten-years’ experience.
“We have become glorified babysitters in this state,” said Judy Kidd, a teacher at Independence High School in Charlotte and a member of the Task Force. “I’m not that anyone wants to see a true education given to these students. We need to increase the pay for teachers in the state of North Carolina. Period.”
Other educators on the Task Force also spoke out against the final report. For three meetings Tim Barnsback came prepared, listened intently, and asked probing questions. The final report then appeared in his email within the past week.
“I don’t feel there’s been a sense of input from the education professionals sitting on the panel to this report,” said Barnsback, a middle-school teacher in Burke County. “So I am struggling with why were brought here.”
In response to these criticisms, Senator Tillman repeated a warning he had offered at each of the meetings – there wasn’t going to be much money for teacher salary increases. He talked about the Legislature’s slim budget margins due to cost overruns in Medicaid and increased payments into the state’s retirement plans.
But he didn’t mention the sizable tax cut passed by the Republicans in the Legislature last year that could reduce state revenues by almost two billion dollars over the next five years - other than to say that a future tax increase to pay for teacher salaries was simply out of the question.
“If we only had a limited amount of money, we had to start somewhere,” explained Tillman. “That was the number one problem. Tennessese, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, pay more than we do. We weren’t getting the best and the brightest ever in the classroom. And then they were leaving in the first three to five years.”
In the coming months, Legislators will likely find the money to raise salaries for beginning teachers, and try to keep them in North Carolina classrooms.
It remains to be seen if that will be enough.
These reports are part of American Graduate-Let’s Make it Happen!- a public media initiative to address the drop out crisis, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.