Senate surprise: making it harder to hire and keep teachers

As if we needed another reason to find the N.C. Senate’s budget proposal lacking, advocates of fairer treatment of public school teachers and other state employees have found in the bowels of the 500-page plan a provision that would reduce immeasurably the appeal of public employment in North Carolina. Budget-backing senators — who had apparently rather kiss a pig that give across-the-board pay raises, who have master-minded the largest layoff of public employees in state history with a plan to write pink slips for more than 8,500 teacher assistants — also want to end retiree health benefits for state employees hired after this year.

(Here are the details: http://tinyurl.com/prdodl3 and http://tinyurl.com/ngktomo)

We’re not surprised that senators who capped the salary of the state’s longest-working teachers don’t see the value of experience on the job. We’re not surprised that senators’ lack of respect for teachers and others in the state’s public education system extends to the rest of the people in North Carolina’s employ (with the likely exception of those within the halls of the Legislature). And, considering other elements of the budget proposal, we shouldn’t be surprised that senators can’t see beyond the dollar signs. But, in this case, we are.

Killing what could be the biggest advantage of state employment will make it harder not only to keep valuable employees but also to hire people for positions where, compared to similar jobs in the private sector, the pay is low and the raises infrequent.

That goes double if those jobs are teacher jobs. Already, fewer young people are going into teaching and more teachers are finding something else to do. To the problems of relatively low pay, the impossibility of meeting ever-changing standards and the embarrassment of our state’s top elected officials giving the whole public education system the side-eye we now have to add the disincentive of a major reduction in retirement benefits.

A signature element of the Senate’s budget proposal is the creation of 2,000 more teaching jobs. (See our June 18 post.) To that number add the 10,000 to 12,000 teachers who have to be replaced in North Carolina each year because of turnover and retirements. Tell us the task of hiring that many new teachers won’t become more difficult when the promise of a more bountiful retirement is lost. Tell us the problem won’t get worse, that turnover among state workers won’t increase and public employment will be as enticing when paid health coverage is no longer part of the retirement plan.

We can’t argue against financial responsibility. If the cost of retiree medical coverage is putting pressure on the State Health Plan, the Legislature should indeed deal with the problem — but by adding to the plan’s reserves, not by subtracting from one of the few things that makes state government competitive as an employer.