RALEIGH (May 11, 2022) – Everyone was so excited last November – legislators and the governor agreed on the first state budget in three years, and it included raises of 5% over two years for state employees.
But now – as the N.C. General Assembly plans to reconvene May 18 – we’re looking at 8.5% annual inflation.1 Those raises don’t seem nearly so generous. The new budget was propped up by billions in one-time federal COVID relief dollars.
“The 5% increase really is a negative by the time everything else comes out,” said Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, senior chairman of the N.C. House Committee on an Education System for North Carolina’s Future. “We’re fully, extremely cognizant of all that.”2
And it remains clear that North Carolina is still underinvesting in public education at every level.
K-12 TEACHERS STILL LAG THE NATION
The cost of going without raises for three years is stark when salaries of North Carolina’s K-12 teachers are compared with those in states whose legislatures continued to approve raises for teachers during those years.
After modest gains in the past decade,3 the average salary of North Carolina teachers fell to 38th in the country in 2020-21 and 34th in 2021-22, according to figures recently released and adjusted by the National Education Association.
Average pay for a K-12 teacher in North Carolina – including salary supplements paid by some large counties – was $53,458 in 2020-21 and $54,863 in 2021-22. But average teacher pay in North Carolina is still more than $11,000 below the national average of $66,397.4
That’s a far cry from when the state’s teacher pay ranked 19th nationally in 2001-02.5
COMMUNITY COLLEGE FACULTY AND STAFF
Faculty and staff at the state’s 58 community colleges might be worse off. NC community-college faculty salaries ranked 41st in the country before the new budget was approved in November.
“We have to invest in our faculty and our staff on our community college campuses,” NCCCS President Thomas Stith says in the accompanying video, “to ensure that we have high-quality instructors in front of our students and the support staff to provide an excellent experience for student success.”
The State Board of Community Colleges adopted a plan in January to ask legislators for an additional $96 million for raises for community college faculty and staff over the next three years.
Those dollars would provide a 1% pay increase in 2022-23, followed by 3.5% increases in each of the two following years, for a total raise of roughly 8%.
System officials say that would raise average faculty salaries at North Carolina community colleges to the projected average of community-college faculty in Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, or $56,693.6
UNC CHANCELLORS WORRIED
At meetings last month of the UNC System Board of Governors, chancellors from state universities large and small voiced worries about retaining faculty and staff, as well as increased costs for building projects, in the face of inflation.
The System’s legislative agenda voices appreciation for the raises approved last fall, but notes that “employees and their families are struggling to manage increasing prices.”7
And a report to the Board of Governors last month revealed that turnover among faculty and staff spiked in June 2021 at 13 of the System’s 16 universities.
Turnover rates have increased substantially since the summer of 2021, System officials reported.8
“It’s beginning to impact our ability to meet the needs of the state,” said NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson, who added that NC State has lost $50 million in purchasing power to inflation.
Have you checked house prices in Raleigh or Boone or Asheville or Chapel Hill lately? UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said the cost of housing has become a factor in efforts to hire several deans at Carolina.
UNC Pembroke Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings said he now must pay the highest salaries in the history of the institution to make hires.
“You have to,” Cummings said.
And UNC Wilmington Chancellor Jose “Zito” Sartarelli said that despite raises of 2½% this year and next, he is losing skilled staff in areas such as audit, information technology and human resources.
“Our people are affected dramatically by this,” Sartarelli said.
System officials responded that they do not plan to make a specific request to the General Assembly for an inflation adjustment because the issue needs to be confronted across state government, not just in the University System.
4 https://www.nea.org/sites/default/files/2022-04/2022%20Rankings%20and%20Estimates%20Report.pdf, pp. 21, 40. https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article260971512.html.
6 https://www.higheredworks.org/2022/03/stith-invest-in-our-faculty-and-staff/; https://www.bizjournals.com/triangle/news/2022/01/23/nc-community-colleges-requesting-budget-increase.html.
7 https://www.northcarolina.edu/apps/bog/doc.php?id=66653&code=bog, p. 5.
8 https://www.northcarolina.edu/apps/bog/doc.php?id=66644&code=bog, pp. 11-21; https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2022/04/26/unc-faculty-staff-turnover-spikes-spurs-search-answers.