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Budget includes 6.5% teacher pay raise, local appropriations

Seven years ago, when the recession forced the Legislature to make deep budget cuts, landslide mapping in Western North Carolina was among the victims.

State Rep. Chuck McGrady was reminded of the program last week when he saw news of the mudslide in Polk County that killed a woman whose home was crushed.
“We can’t do much about them other than know where they are so people can choose not to live in the path of one,” said McGrady, who has specialized throughout his political career in conservation, the environment and land-use policy.
That’s why McGrady marked a small victory in the 2018-19 budget that House and Senate leaders rolled out Monday night. The $24 billion budget contains a variety of new investments in disaster prevention or mitigation, from river gauges to rescue equipment. Among the appropriations is $3.6 million to revive the landsite mapping program in Western North Carolina, including Henderson County, the last county to complete a map of mudslide-prone areas before the funding was pulled.
As an Appropriations Committee chair who shapes spending plans for agriculture, natural and cultural resources, environmental protection and commerce, McGrady was intimately involved in drafting the new budget, which builds on the budget the General Assembly adopted in its long session last year.
“Obviously, the school safety issue was the perfect example of a new need” that triggers adjustments, McGrady said. “Everybody was pretty sure that we needed to continue to add money toward education. The teacher pay raise that was in the budget is still there but there’s a lot more there.” The budget also boosts principals’ pay and adds performance bonuses for academic growth. “Two years ago we focused on starting teachers’ pay and now two cycles later we’re trying to put more money into the more senior teachers.”
Overall, the budget appropriates nearly $350 million for pay raises and bonuses for teachers, principals and other school employees. It includes an average 6.5 percent pay raise for teachers, nearly $12 million to provide a permanent salary increase to veteran teachers with more than 25 years of experience, $22 million for performance-based bonuses to top-performing fourth and fifth grade reading teachers and fourth through eighth grade math teachers whose students achieve the most academic growth and a 6.9 percent increase to the principal salary schedule, bringing the total increase to principals’ base pay to 13.1 percent since the 2016-17 school year.
Having agreed on the numbers, House and Senate leaders plan to introduce the appropriations bill as a conference report.
“So there will be one up-and-down vote in both the House and Senate and no opportunities for amendments,” McGrady said. “I’m expecting by Friday we will pass the budget.”
“There’s a series of different appropriations from school nurses to school psychologists to money for schools, particularly to pull down building related (security upgrades),” he said. “There’s training money for SROs. It’s scattered about.”
Other highlights for the region include:
• Training rural doctors, $4.8 million, nonrecurring, for the Asheville campus of UNC School of Medicine, which trains physicians for rural practice through the Mountain Area Heath Education Center.
• Expand Leader in Me program, which teaches leadership and life skills to young students and is currently in four Henderson County elementary schools, requested by Sen. Chuck Edwards, $200,000.
• Muddy Sneakers, an outdoor science program championed by McGrady, $400,000.
• Start an early childhood education program in Transylvania County, requested by Edwards, $50,000.
• Stop the Bleed, to furnish bleeding control kits in 250 classrooms in Transylvania County, requested by Rep. Cody Henson, $127,000.
• Pisgah Legal Services, $100,000 for a legal aid program that helps veterans with problems like evictions, health care and challenges.
• Montreat College, $2 million, to start a cyber-security training center.
• Additional firearms instructor at the WNC Justice Center, $95,000.
• 211 system, a Henderson County United Way service that helps people with needs like food, health care and housing, $250,000.
• Hemlock restoration, $225,000 recurring.
• Digital children’s library, sought by Henderson County public library, $200,000 non-recurring.
The budget also fixes “a glitch” in federal law that could have cost the Blue Ridge Literacy Council $72,000 in funding. “There’s a provision in the budget that will take care of that,” McGrady said.