Officially, the gray squirrel is the official state mammal of the Old North State. And as ubiquitous its presence is in our state, there is an animal that seems to be more revered by lawmakers in Raleigh – at least concerning the terrain of education.
It’s the “average bear.”
These animals roam freely in the halls of the NCGA and particularly hibernate in the offices of top-ranking lawmakers like Phil Berger and Tim Moore.
A few have been seen in the offices of Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and State Superintendent Mark Johnson.
“Average bears” have a special gift for spinning, especially figures and statistics. And policy makers like those mentioned before make great use of this power. No where is that seen more than in talking about public education.
Most of the nation now knows that Berger and Moore have placed the blame of the current budget impasse upon the issue of teacher pay, and both Berger and Moore have gone out of their way to talk about the immense raises they have given to teachers over the past few years.
Berger has even got a website called ncteacherraise.com to show off his ability to tame the “average bear.”
But remember that “average” does not mean “actual.” And with the removal of longevity pay and graduate degree pay bumps, it is very easy for “average bears” to work their magic with numbers because if you think that this veteran teacher’s pay has gone up over 20% in the last six years, then you are sadly mistaken.
Below is a salary scale for 2018-2019. Imagine if there was one teacher being used for each step – 31 total with each step represented by one teacher. An average pay increase of 5% will be applied to the the salaries in two different scenarios.
The point is that lawmakers can achieve an average of 5% across the board in a variety of ways – some much cheaper than others, especially when raises are concentrated on those whose salaries are on the lower rungs of the salary schedule.
Notice that the NCGA can create an “average” raise of 5% for those 31 different teachers by front-loading the raises with an investment of $62,250 and leave veteran teachers out of the pay increases. That is what has happened under Berger and Moore these last six years.
If each experience level received an actual 5% raise, it would have been an investment of $72,100.
Additionally, a retiring teacher’s pension is based on an average of the last four years’ salary. In the two scenarios above, the 30-year educator could retire with a final four-year average of $52,000 or $54,600.
Berger and Moore would rather see the first scenario because it makes the retirement payout over the retiree’s life lower.
That’s the power of the “average bear.”