Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina teacher’s union, NCAE, proved his disconnect from reality and his lack of concern for the state and its citizens this week as he criticized legislative action providing a $350 teacher bonus and a continuation of step salary increases for teachers, in spite of an unprecedented budget deficit facing the state legislature.
The NCAE president described this legislative proposal, currently sitting on Governor Cooper’s desk for approval, as “disrespectful” and “egregious.” He criticized the legislative initiative (SB 818) on the grounds that it doesn’t appreciate the work teachers did during this year’s final semester of public school as class operations were disrupted by the pandemic.
Mr. Jewell stated in his criticism, “Educators have been on the front lines of the pandemic from the beginning, making the meals, adapting the curriculum, serving the food and checking on the students’ emotional and physical well-being. We put our health, and the health of our families, at risk day after day, and yet this General Assembly only sees fit to give us a $350 bonus. All other state employees are still schedule to get their 2.5 percent raise, on top of the 2.5 percent they received last year, when again, we received nothing.”
Mr. Jewell failed to note in his complaint that the legislature attempted to provide a 3.9 percent increase for teachers last year but the governor, with the support of the NCAE, vetoed that effort. And while North Carolina public school teachers have received pay increases over the past 10 years, other state employee salaries have not kept pace.
The legislative leadership, which coincidentally is Republican, did not ignore the hard work of the thousands of teachers, school staffs and administrators over the past 4 months. On the contrary the legislature proved its appreciation by providing a bonus and maintaining the pre-determined step salary increases in spite of the financial difficulties the state budget will experience due to reduced revenues.
The state budget office anticipates an approximate $4-$5 billion shortfall in the state revenues due to the governor’s closure mandates that were initially intended to protect the state’s medical facilities from being overwhelmed by patients suffering from the COVID-19 virus. That goal has been met but the governor continues to restrict openings which is reducing tax revenues and subsequently increasing unemployment distributions.
Gregory Thompson, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, notes that of the approximate 900,000 small business in the state, easily 25 percent will not be able to reopen once the governor’s mandates are lifted. If that number is correct that means there will be 225,000 shuttered businesses not providing payrolls to employees, tax revenues to local communities and the state, and a loss of support for local programs such as high school sports.
The sheer number of unemployed, estimated to be over 1 million, and the financial disaster that North Carolina’s small businesses face due to the governor’s continued closure mandates, means that there will be large numbers of formerly employed workers who won’t benefit from either a continued paycheck or pay increase, and definitely not a bonus.
We applaud the state’s teachers, school staffs and administrators for their hard work, dedication, professionalism and their deep concern for their students. We’re confident that they will continue to do so in the year ahead.
Mr. Jewell, in his capacity as president of the state teacher’s union, has obviously missed the fact that all of North Carolina is suffering. His untimely complaint only increases the divide between those fortunate enough to still have good paying jobs and the hundreds of thousands of families who have no clear indication if they will be able to make ends meet each day.
What is needed now is leadership form the state’s various education organizations such as the state Department of Education, which to date has offered no public guidance, and the Department of Public Instruction. With only 58 days remaining till school is scheduled to start, local school systems are working to anticipate various government requirements. The job is exacerbated due to a lack of clarity from the governor and the various education departments so the school administrators and students are left guessing what is to come.
It is time to pull together and find solutions to unprecedented challenges rather than point accusative fingers at the legislature in an attempt to gain partisan political points.