State tweaks teachers' paychecks

A new law may make some paychecks smaller for hundreds of Catawba County educators, but teachers won't lose any money.

The N.C. General Assembly approved a law in summer 2011 that regulates when school systems are allowed to pay teachers and 10-month employees at the beginning of the school year. The law prohibits school systems from giving teachers a full month's paycheck at the end of August when teachers have not worked a full month. The law is set to take effect with the 2012-13 school year.

In the past, some school systems have prepaid teachers a full month's salary Aug. 31.

State education leaders say the prepayment often cost school systems money when teachers left a district before the end of the payment cycle.

Local educators and the N.C. School Boards Association (NCSBA) say the language of the new law is not clear.

"There's a discrepancy in the law. It says teachers shouldn't be paid for a full month, but should be paid by Aug. 31," said Dr. Barry Redmond, superintendent of Newton-Conover City Schools (NCCS). "A worst-case scenario with the law is they would get two weeks' pay on the first paycheck instead of four weeks."

NCSBA is seeking support of the state's school districts to amend the law and remove the mandatory initial pay date of Aug. 31. The NCCS Board of Education resolved to support the amendment this week.

"It does not mean any teacher in the school system loses money," said Scott Loudermelt, NCCS school board chairman. "It changes the way that money's paid."

Redmond said a lot of school systems want to wait to pay teachers in September and pay a full month's salary. School systems are required by law to pay teachers annual salaries in either 10-month or 12-month installments.

"There's no reason teachers would lose a penny," Redmond said.

Teachers and 10-month employees stand to get a smaller initial paycheck, however, the way the law is currently written, said Glenn Barger, superintendent of Catawba County Schools (CCS), one of the county's largest employers.

"We're frustrated with the ruling and what it causes for our employees," Barger said.

"For some of these employees it may not be enough to take care of some deductions.

They may have to look at the end of September to get a full paycheck. Covering bills is a concern."

Barger said CCS and other school systems are eligible for a calendar waiver that would allow flexibility in scheduling the school year under the state's new 185-instructional-day requirement. He said CCS, with state approval, will look at bringing back teachers in early August and beginning the school year earlier. That schedule change would shift high school exams before Christmas and increase the number of days teachers would be paid for August work.

"Back in November, it was expected (lawmakers) would deal with some amendments with that (teacher payment) bill," he said. "But it didn't come up."

Redmond said there's now a sense of urgency to voice local support for changes to the payment law before lawmakers return for a scheduled Feb. 16-18 legislative session.

Paycheck deduction blocked
Also this week, a judge temporarily blocked a new law that stops dues for an education advocacy group from automatically being removed from teachers' paychecks.

Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed a bill to stop the automatic deduction of N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) dues, but legislators overrode that veto to enact the law.

Judge Paul Gessner issued a temporary restraining order Monday, hours after NCAE sued in Wake County court to stop the law's enactment.

NCAE, the state's largest teacher lobbying group, argues the veto was overridden in an unconstitutional after-midnight meeting last week that injured the association, and the law should be voided.

The change could reduce NCAE membership and its ability to raise money for election and legislative issues in 2012 and beyond. The lawsuit said the NCAE would suffer a "crippling decimation" of funds should the payroll deduction prohibition become law.