Not sold on teacher pay increases

By Andy Winemiller -

Recently, there has been much discussion of teacher pay in North Carolina. Folks, including those who have spent decades in education, have said it’s simply too low. The governor has called for a 5 percent pay increase for teachers.

I’m not sold.

According to estimates from the National Education Association — a teachers’ union — the national average teacher salary is about $57,000. In North Carolina the average salary for a teacher is about $47,000.

That’s a $10,000 difference. It sure seems like a lot, but I think other factors must be weighed before making the cry of “underpaid.”

The most recent numbers I could find from the U.S. Bureau of Labor indicate the average annual earned income for Tar Heel residents is about $41,000. By those numbers, North Carolina’s average salary fell about $4,000 shy of the national average.

More recent numbers which hit much closer to home from the Surry County Economic Development Partnership (EDP) indicate the average weekly salary in the county is $595. That’s an annual salary of $28,560.

Those numbers include everybody, from the CEOs at some of our thriving businesses to the person serving your Big Mac. They also include varying levels of education, ranging from the school administrator with a doctorate making six digits to the guy with a GED who works as a bartender.

According to the EDP’s numbers, there are about 2,450 people working in the accommodations and food services industry in Surry County. Their average salary is $250 per week. Nearly 4,000 people are employed in the retail trade industry here. They earn an average salary of $434 per week.

The EDP’s numbers indicate there are more than 4,000 people working in the healthcare industry in Surry County — a number which includes nurses and highly trained professionals. Those folks are garnering an average salary of $614 per week, or $29,472 per year.

Teachers, arguably, perform one of the most important jobs in our society. They educate our future. Every day, a teacher plays an important role in the lives of youngsters, who will be tomorrow’s doctors, politicians, entrepreneurs and food-service workers.

That stated, when the rest of a population is struggling to make ends meet, it just might not be right to push more of the dollars earned by those folks toward higher public sector wages.

Of course, teachers are educated folks. All have bachelor’s degrees, and some have master’s degrees. For their academic accomplishments, they ought to be compensated. My argument is when you look at an average salary which is already above the state average and far above the county average, they are already being compensated.

I’d be willing to bet there are many folks out there in Surry County with bachelor’s degrees who are making much less than $47,000 per year.

Certainly there are folks who are less educated making more money. Is it fair? Maybe not, but life isn’t fair.

The state sets the starting salary for a teacher at $35,000. That number is before any local subsidies are added to their paychecks.

A starting sheriff’s deputy enters service with the county at a pay grade of “63.” The salary range there is about $28,000 to about $40,000. My understanding is the average starting deputy is compensated to the tune of about $28,000 to $30,000. Of course, new deputies start with varying levels of education, ranging from a certification at the community college to a bachelor’s degree.

Those guys and gals strap a sidearm to their sides every work day — 12 months out of the year — are often required to work holidays and put their lives on the line for less than a starting teacher makes in nine or 10 months in the classroom.

In short, public sector jobs ought to reflect what’s going in in the private sector, just as the deputy’s salary does. After all, the private sector is what’s paying the way for governmental entities.

With a populace still struggling to claw back from an economy which upended nearly a decade ago, I think it’s a little over zealous for public employees already making more than the average resident to be jumping up and down for more money.

The $47,000 state average teacher salary, based on 10 months of work, is 200 percent of the Surry County average salary.

Long ago, in another job, I used to tell public employees I wished I could pay them all more. They do important jobs, and there’s no real price which can be placed on educating a child. OK. That’s not true. The price that ought to be placed need only comply with one set of criteria —what we can afford.

Paying teachers more on the backs of people who, by-and-large are making less money than the teachers, seems like a hard sell to me.

By Andy Winemiller

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

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