University of North Carolina System President Tom Ross and state Community College System President Scott Ralls, speaking Wednesday at a meeting of McCrory's education Cabinet, said improving employee pay — particularly for campus instructors stood among their top priorities during the General Assembly session that begins in May.
McCrory and fellow Republicans at the legislature last month announced with great fanfare a plan to raise starting base pay for K-12 public school teachers, currently at $30,800, to $33,000 next fall and to $35,000 for fall 2015. But UNC and community college instructors — like public school teachers and nearly all state employees — have had only one 1.2 percent raise since the 2008-09 fiscal year.
Since mid-2009, the cost of living has risen by more than 8 percent, Ross said during a presentation of the system's goals during this year's session.
"It's important to us that we be able to retain our workforce. The core of any university is the quality of its faculty and we have a great faculty," Ross said, but "they're losing ground. We need to pay attention to that."
McCrory's legislative session goals include raising pay for all public school teacher and state employees, which would include higher education faculty. But he said he can't commit yet to proposing a broader pay raise because the state's fiscal picture this year remains fuzzy. It's not clear whether there will be a Medicaid shortfall that would siphon funds for the new fiscal year starting July 1.
The bad winter in North Carolina also may have affected sales and income taxes, the governor said.
"We cannot make that commitment until we know the money's available and ... we're just not sure of the revenue stream," McCrory said.
The governor presents a state budget proposal annually that includes the proposals of all three branches of public education, including the public schools. The education Cabinet, which was revived by McCrory when he took office, is designed to present a more unified approach to education funding and initiatives.
Ralls presented data showing average faculty salaries for North Carolina's community college faculty are 30 percent below the national average and rank 41st among the states. The community college average salary, calculated at $47,300 during the 2011-12 fiscal year, is only slightly above the average North Carolina public school teacher salaries, he said.
"Our faculty at community colleges are very much in the same place where the teachers in the public schools are," Ralls said. The instructors on the system's 58 campuses require master's degrees if they are teaching classes with credits that will transfer to colleges, while others have highly technical skills, he added.
Ralls presented a proposal to address the quality of community college campus faculty in which the system would maintain money they saved by making more efficient its developmental education, or curriculum students didn't master in high school. The savings could be used to hire faculty to teach skills in fields that require math, science or technology training.
Ross said the UNC can also retain top quality faculty if the state contributed more to the system's optional retirement plan.
The education Cabinet also includes Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson; State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey; Hope Williams with North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities; and Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos.