Veteran Teachers Frustrated At Lack of Longevity Pay

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Many veteran teachers in North Carolina are voicing their frustration over the changes made to the state salary schedule that eliminated longevity pay, folding it up into the base pay of teachers. For some teachers who have been working for years in North Carolina, this change has cost them thousands of dollars a year. From the News and Observer article,

Steven Unruhe is a 28-year state employee who has won national recognition for his work in a job that is not easy to fill. His state salary is $50,000 a year.

If he worked for the state legislature, Unruhe would be entitled to nearly $10,000 in additional pay for his years of service. Since the 1980s, lawmakers have rewarded their staffs with longevity payments that reach as high as 19 percent of their pay.

But Unruhe is a math teacher, though he says not for much longer. Last year, state lawmakers removed the longevity bonus pay for veteran teachers and rolled it into their base salary. At the same time, they unveiled a new pay scale that boosted the pay of newer teachers.

“It’s very disappointing and very much a slap in the face of veteran teachers,” said Unruhe, who also teaches journalism at Riverside High School in Durham. “The message from legislators is: We value experience in our own employees. We don’t value experience in our schools.”

For more than 50 years, the state has paid veteran employees with bonus payments based on how many years they’ve worked. Most state employees can receive a payment equal to 1.5 percent of their salaries once they’ve worked for 10 years, and that payment jumps to 4.5 percent if they’ve worked for 25 years or more.

But unless the legislature brings back the bonus pay in a future session, veteran teachers will have lost that benefit.

“It’s an earned benefit, and it should go to the people who earned it,” said Margaret Foreman, who lobbies lawmakers for the N.C. Association of Educators. “They shouldn’t lose it.”

Lawmakers did make sure all teachers received more pay this year. Even those making more than the new ceiling lawmakers set for teacher salaries – $50,000 – did not see their salaries reduced, plus they received a one-time $1,000 bonus.

A frequent target

Republicans, in charge at the legislature since 2011, are not the only ones who have looked to teachers’ longevity bonuses to pay the bills. In 2009, Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue proposed freezing longevity pay. And in the early 1990s, Democratic lawmakers also diverted the bonus pay into the salary schedule for teachers, only to restore it a few years later after drawing complaints.

But bonus payments for longevity have often flown under the radar in state government with little discussion, while pay raises are usually among the most debated items during budget season.

In Unruhe’s case, lawmakers folded his $2,088 bonus payment into his salary for the 2013-14 school year, then increased his pay by $1,522 to $50,000 this year. So while his base pay went up 7.8 percent over the two years, it’s actually a pay raise of about 3.1 percent in the last fiscal year when the loss of the bonus is included in the calculation. (Unruhe also receives on top of his state salary a supplement from the Durham school district that’s equal to 14 percent of his pay, or $7,000.)

If lawmakers had given Unruhe the $1,522 pay raise without rolling his longevity pay into his salary, he actually would be making more money. His salary would then have been $47,912, but the 4.5 percent longevity payment would have brought his pay up to $50,068.

Until this year’s pay increase, Unruhe had received nothing more than a 1.2 percent pay increase over the past several years. Because he’s at the top of the pay scale, his salary will go no higher unless lawmakers take action.

Others in state government, including state legislative staffers, kept their bonus pay as they saw an across the board raise of $1,000, plus five extra vacation days. Lawmakers also raised the pay by 5 to 6 percent for newer members of the Highway Patrol, but they did not take away longevity pay for the troopers, which is the same as what most state employees receive. 

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