9 Investigates: Questions surround state's largest teacher advocacy group

by: Dave Faherty Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - There are big questions about the state's largest teacher advocacy group.

The North Carolina Association of Educators has 50,000 members but some teachers, who haven't seen a raise in years, are asking how effective the organization is.

Tommy Townsend and Valjean Scott are teachers in the Charlotte Mecklenburg School district. At one time, they were members of the North Carolina Association of Educators but they say they left over concerns ranging from a lack of support from the organization to years of no raises for teachers.

"They haven't done a single thing to help salaries. They haven't done anything from what I can see to educate the general public about what teaching entails," Townsend said.

"I have an idea of how unions work and I was thinking that it was some type of or form of a union representation and support," Scott said.

But the NCAE is not a union. Instead it is a professional development and advocacy organization with nearly 40 employees. Rodney Ellis currently serves as president after working for years as a middle school teacher.

"You have to be frustrated when your pay has been frozen for six years," Ellis said.

Ellis said he gets phone calls and emails every day from teachers upset that North Carolina ranks 46th out of 50 states when it comes to teacher pay. He said NCAE has four lobbyists who urged lawmakers this year to raise teacher salaries but were again unsuccessful.

"We went over there, established relationships with them, got in the door and started having conversations, but at the end of the day they passed a budget with draconian cuts to public education," Ellis said.

Scott said she had roughly $40 deducted from her paycheck each month for membership dues prior to leaving the NCAE. The organization says teachers pay on average around $400 each year in dues. According to their own tax filings the NCAE uses some of that money to pay millions of dollars in salaries each year.

"I'm outraged. I'm outraged. When I look at what teachers are going through," Scott said.

Ellis said salaries are in line with other similar size organizations and have been frozen for the last three years.

"You don't feel like it is excessive? Not when you look at my schedule and the amount of time and the work that I do to be advocates for them," Ellis said.

Ellis said he has advocated for teachers to the point of getting arrested at the state Capitol this summer, he opposes leading teachers on a strike because North Carolina is a right to work state. He and other members say they won't stop petitioning state leaders for better pay and better ways to improve the work being done in the classroom.

Townsend hasn't gotten a raise in years and isn't hopeful that the NCAE can change that.

"To pay those kind of salaries at a time when teachers haven't had a real raise in seven years and teachers are having to work two, three jobs just to make ends meet. That's not proper," Townsend said.

Teachers in North Carolina average about $46,000 a year.

NCAE leaders make two or three times that, but the organization said it has tightened its belt and hasn't filled nearly a dozen positions.