by Cindy McMahon, Reynolds District Representative, Buncombe County School Board
This summer brought momentous news regarding teacher pay in Buncombe County.
One may ask: Why is Buncombe teacher pay any different than pay for teachers across the state? Our NC legislators are constitutionally required to provide “a general and uniform system of free public schools… wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.” Isn’t this a statewide mandate?
It’s true that we are lucky in NC, in that our constitution calls for state government to provide quality public education for everyone. However, it also states that local governments “may use local revenues to add to or supplement any public school or post-secondary school program.” This is where the local supplement comes in.
The truth is that in areas with a high cost of living (such as Buncombe County), the state pay rates for teachers simply aren’t sufficient to pay their bills. Therefore our local county government steps in to make up the difference so that we can recruit and keep excellent teachers, and so teachers can live on what we pay them.
As a School Board, we met in May to approve the funding request that would be presented to the Buncombe County Commissioners. The Superintendent presented a proposal to us that included a substantial increase in our request to the county, but this increase was not for increasing the local supplement. It was for the necessary costs to staff the new Enka Intermediate School (scheduled to open this fall) and add another grade (11th) to the Nesbitt Discovery Academy, which will continue to grow by one grade until it reaches capacity in the 2017-18 school year.
Pat Bryant, the School Board representative from the Erwin District, raised an important concern about this budget as it was presented to us. Several years ago, the County Commissioners approved a three-year plan to increase the local supplement for teachers. They were only able to implement one year of the planned increases because the economy bottomed out at that time. Isn’t it time to ask them to revisit this plan, now that the economy has improved substantially?
We scheduled an additional called meeting several days later to address this question, and Personnel Director Cynthia Lopez presented very convincing data: most of the school systems closest to us have markedly higher supplements than we do, making it harder for us to compete with them in attracting and retaining teachers. After considerable discussion, we voted unanimously to ask the Commissioners to increase the local supplement for certified teachers, so that we would reach the level originally planned for the third year of increases.
We were not the only board that needed considerable discussion in order to reach this important decision. At its five-hour meeting on June 21, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners voted on two different budget proposals before finally approving (4-3) a budget that included an increase to the local supplement for certified teachers, as well as a $500,000 increase for non-certified staff (including instructional assistants).
The increase for teachers was less than we requested, but the Commissioners committed to an additional increase for next year, which will bring the local supplement to the level agreed upon with the earlier plan.
This much-needed increase for teachers is for all public school teachers within the boundaries of Buncombe County, including those in Asheville City Schools as well as the charter schools. We expect that Buncombe County Schools teachers will see this increase in their September 30 paychecks.
And so to address the headline question: Is the local supplement a vitamin? Indeed it is! My dictionary defines “vitamin” as a substance that is “essential for the normal functioning of the body.” There’s no question that the local supplement — as a means to attract and retain the best possible teachers for our students — is essential for the functioning of our school system as a whole. After all, the teachers’ working conditions are the students’ learning conditions. We want our Buncombe County teachers to know that we value their important work, and we need to pay them as the professionals they are.
Questions for Cindy? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.