>>It’s summer. I’m a teacher. I’m “off” (meaning that I’m lesson planning, writing recommendation letters, learning new software on my own time, etc.), so I should be happy. But I’m sitting here with a giant frown spread across my face.
North Carolina seems intent on damaging its public education system as much as possible. The more paranoid among my profession think it’s on purpose– sabotage the system to fulfill the prophecy that it will fail, thereby allowing for more regulation, budget cuts, and privatization. It’s a potential tactical maneuver in the war between Republicans or Democrats.
Whether that theory is true or not, the most recent damage to morale is >>“a few short lines in the 2015-17 Senate budget would eliminate state-paid health retirement benefits for teachers and state employees hired after January 1, 2016.”
I’m worried that this move will make it harder to recruit quality educators for our schools. We currently>> rank 46th in teacher pay (estimated to rise to 42nd this year) and no >>longer award higher salaries to teachers who complete Master’s degrees.
The retirement benefits are calculated with a formula that includes contributions from both the employee and employer and is based on the amount of time a teacher serves. Teachers contribute 6% of gross monthly wages and salary. After ten years, NC contributes 50% to the retirement plan. >>“Twenty years of service gets retirees fully-paid health insurance—although everyone is on the hook for premiums.”
Many people become teachers when they are young and idealistic or as a second career to “give back to the community” after their children are off to college and their finances comfortable. The latter only have a few years of service in the them.
As for the former group, as their families and expenses grow and their pay stagnates (the budget is freezing salaries again this year), life necessitates that they consider more lucrative careers. Without incentives like retirement benefits, many won’t stay or will reconsider teaching in the first place.
Our children will be hurt with higher teacher turnover (or a dearth of qualified teachers) and schools will shoulder the burden of needing to train new teachers more frequently which requires funding to do so effectively – something the state would be loathe to provide.
Back in January, I wrote a post for this site, >>“5 Things I Actually Love About NC Public Schools,” and I stand by what I said, mostly because the things I love have little to do with the way the state treats its schools or teachers.
Lawmakers are scheduled to continue budget negotiations on July 13th and send the final budget to the governor in August. Maybe one thing we can do during the lazy days of summer is let legislators know that we care about our teachers and state employees and that these cuts will hurt more than the retirees.
>>Jennifer Brick is a writer and teacher in Durham, North Carolina. She earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College. Follow her on Twitter @jenbrickwrites.
A beautiful commentary about a sad situation. I remember when North Carolina schools were the pride of the nation. It could happen again, but only if teachers and their supporters organize politically and make their voices heard. Not easy to do, but consider the alternatives. I wish you and you colleagues the best.