NORTH CAROLINA — A draft piece of legislation would remove North Carolina teachers’ individual salaries from the public record in the midst of a statewide conversation about how much the legislature should increase teacher pay, which is among the lowest in the country.
Republican Rep. Paul Stam, Speaker Pro Tempore, presented a draft education bill to the Committee on Education Strategy and Practices last week, explaining that the bill would address the “envy and jealousy” among teachers who receive different salaries based on their skills or responsibilities by making their paychecks exempt from the public records law.
“People don’t like the idea that other people will know what their salary is,” Stam said in a video posted by EducationNC. “Typically in business, you know, salaries are confidential.”
According to the draft of the bill, salaries from central office administrators, charter school principals and school-based administrators would remain public record. The salaries from all other school employees would no longer be considered public record. State salary schedules, which show teacher compensation based on experience and academic degrees, would still be available to the public, along with graded pay ranges and employee benefits.
The bill would also limit superintendent severance pay to one year and would allow individuals with a masters or doctorate degree to teach in that subject area without a teacher’s license.
Jonathan Jones, director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition, said the bill would create the only category in the state where a public employee’s salary is considered secret.
“Any effort to remove teacher salaries from public record is really misguided and [is in opposition] to our state’s commitment to transparency,” he said.
Jones said he is also concerned the legislation would make it difficult to verify the state’s teacher salaries — a topic that has received lots of public attention in recent years. According to a 2015 National Education Association report, the Tar Heel State was ranked 47th in teacher pay, with public school teachers making an average of $44,990 during the 2013-14 school year. During the 2014-15 school year, teachers’ average pay increased to $47,783.
Jones also questioned why, if the intent of the bill is to apply only to teachers, the legislation exempts all other school employees who are not school administrators or principals.
Gregg Sinders, a senior policy adviser in Stam’s office who helped draft the bill, said keeping the salaries of individual teachers secret would allow school principals to be more flexible in how they compensate teachers. The bill, he said, would make sure principals do not have to answer questions from teachers who get paid less than others.
Jones called that reasoning “patently ridiculous” and said government agencies throughout the state have to deal with their employees’ salaries being public. Still, he said he appreciates that there is a public discussion about the draft of the bill before it is formally introduced.
Sinders said it’s too early in the process to determine what will be included in the final bill, but they wanted to release the bill as a draft to receive input.
“It was marked (as a) draft for a purpose,” he said.
Sinders said Stam plans to formally introduce the education bill sometime during the legislature’s short session, which begins on April 25. The legislature will have to determine the budget for teachers’ salaries when it reconvenes.
SPLC staff writer Ryan Tarinelli can be reached by email or at (202) 974-6318.