The powers that rule in the North Carolina General Assembly have been waging a war against public schools in our state for the last four years. Under the guise of “reform,” GOP conservatives driven by ALEC-crafted policies have successfully enabled and instituted privatization efforts in many forms: unregulated charter school development, expansive growth of unproven vouchers, underfunding traditional public schools, and even propped an educational neophyte as state superintendent who has passively allowed the very department that is set to protect public schools to be heinously undercut.
However, the latest move against public schools in North Carolina might signal the next step in overhauling education in the Old North State – the systematic elimination of the veteran teacher.
Let me rephrase that.
A gerrymandered lawmaking body has passed a budget that further indicates that many lawmakers in Raleigh will go to any length to poach the educational profession of veteran teachers.
In the last four years, new teachers entering the profession in North Carolina have seen the removal of graduate degree pay bumps and due-process rights. While the “average” salary increases have been most friendly to newer teachers, those pay “increases” do plateau at about Year 15 in a teacher’s career. Afterwards, nothing really happens. Teachers in that position may have to make career-ending decisions.
Without promise of much pay increase and no graduate degree pay bumps, those teachers may have to leave a profession they not only excel in and love, but serve as models for younger teachers to ensure professional integrity, the kind that was allowed to shine in a North Carolina of yesteryear when Republican governors and lawmakers were in the forefront of making sure public schools were a strength. And those teachers will not have due-process rights that would allow them to speak up about issues like compensation for fear of reprisal.
Student will suffer; communities will suffer.
The taking away of retiree state health benefits for teachers hired after January of 2021 is a step to create a system where students are more or less taught by contractors because the endangered species known as the “veteran teacher” will come to the point of extinction.
Lynn Bonner reported in the News & Observer today (“State retiree health coverage to end for future NC employees”),
Republican state senators want limits on future retiree benefits to control costs and get the state more in line with perks private-sector employees get. The state employee health plan has a $42.2 billion unfunded liability, estimated future costs that are outpacing revenue.
The retiree health care provision is in the budget the legislature passed this week. Republican senators filed a bill limiting future state employees’ retirement benefits that received a committee hearing earlier this year. That bill never went to a vote (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article157928844.html).
That whole idea of getting “the state more in line with perks private-sector employees get” might be one of the most misleading mantras that rules the mindsets of these lawmakers. Why make a public sector service run like a business when public schools aren’t allowed to be businesses? If that were a reality, then schools could treat lawmakers like a Board of Directors of sorts and then rally to oust them at any time beside election years.
If a lawmaker wants to argue that public schools should run like a business and that teachers, staff, and administration should be treated like private-sector employees, then that lawmaker might need to look at the converse and see how unrelated those two entities really are. In fact, I would invite any lawmaker who favors this budgetary move to try and see if he/she could run a business like a public school. Maybe the differences between a public service and private enterprise might become more apparent because one is not even comparing apples to oranges. One is comparing apples to rocks.
Rest assuredly, that lawmaker would really need to be prepared to:
- open up every book and have everything audited.
- publicize all of the salaries of the people who work for you.
- allow every stockholder to have equal power on how your run your business even if they own just one share.
- to abide by protocols and procedures established by people outside of the business.
- not get to choose your raw materials.
- have everything open to the press.
- not be allowed to advertise or market yourself.
- raise funds because you are not really fully funded.
- have your work hours, schedule, and calendar will be dictated by those who do not even work for your business.
- communicate with all of your clients’ parents and guardians.
- NOT MAKE A MONETARY PROFIT.
And that whole revenue debacle? When those same lawmakers enact laws like HB2 and make ill-informed and misguided expenditures like giving the state superintendent legal fund money to sue his own state board, financing pork barrel spending, and expanding unproven vouchers (despite evidence to the contrary http://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article157926389.html ) all the while bragging about a surplus as they lower taxes for wealthy people, it is easy to call into doubt that it is the state retirement system causing all of this financial unrest.
Bonner later reports,
Representatives from state employee, retiree and teacher organizations said eliminating the retirement benefit will hurt recruitment and retention. State salaries don’t compete with private-sector wages, they said, so retiree benefits are an important lure.
Mark Jewell, executive director of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said everyone thought the proposal to end retiree benefits was dead. “Then, it sneaks up buried in the budget,” he said.”
This proposal “snuck up” because it was meant to.
It was meant to surreptitiously take away more from the teaching profession, which has valiantly fought against the regressive “reforms” of the NC General Assembly. To say that educational issues did not weigh into the elections of Roy Cooper and Josh Stein into office in a state that overwhelmingly voted for Trump would sound uneducated. State Treasurer Dale Folwell called it a “knee-jerk reaction.”
No, it was not.
This General Assembly went out of its way to cut Stein’s budget, limit Cooper’s constitutional powers, and keep assaulting the very people who still pose a threat against the privatization of public education – veteran teachers.
Oddly enough, retiree benefits are one of the last recruitment tools that our school systems can use to bring in teachers who make education a profession. Bonner reports,
Richard Rogers, executive director of the N.C. Retired Governmental Employee Association, said the organization is going to try to get the decision reversed before 2021.
“There’s no doubt in my mind – having retiree health brings the best and the brightest to the state,” he said.
Right now, we are not attracting the best and brightest. Just look at the past four years and see what has been done to make teaching an unenviable career in North Carolina. This recent action is making sure that anyone who may want to teach in North Carolina in the future will not stay in the profession for long.
Sen. Chad Barefoot’s Bill SB599 should then not be so puzzling. Bringing in alternate teacher-preparation programs that can be controlled by the state weakens the profession overall. This bill was supposedly introduced to help with the shortage in teachers. Why would we have a shortage of teachers?
That’s not a rhetorical question.
If the trends stay in place and we as a state do not replace those in Raleigh with lawmakers who will fully fund public schools and reinstate the very items that attract the best and brightest, then we will literally make the North Carolina veteran teacher an extinct entity.
Something else in Bonner’s report really shed light on the process by which those in Raleigh have promoted their version of secretive “democracy.” It came in an email response from the Office of State Human Resources.
“We value state employees, and reducing benefits for them potentially sends the wrong message about the important work they do and the services they provide for the people of North Carolina. We would appreciate an opportunity to openly discuss, study and collaborate on this important issue.”
- Openly discuss?
If there is one thing that many GOP lawmakers like Berger, Moore, Barefoot, Tillman, and others of their ilk (who don’t have term limits) despise more than veteran public school teachers, it’s open dialogue that may expose their hypocrisy.
And if they actually studied and researched, they would see that most every “reform” that they are enacting has a terrible track record in other states.
And they sure as hell don’t collaborate unless it is in a locked room with only those of like opinions.
Veteran teachers openly discuss, study, and collaborate.
And we will fight.