Some Georgia teachers may not get full raise Gov. Deal pledged

The $25 billion state budget Gov. Nathan Deal signed Monday includes money the governor and legislative leaders intended for pay raises for Georgia teachers. But in some districts, teachers may get raises short of the promised 2 percent bump.

Some metro Atlanta district officials say the state funding tied to the promised 2 percent raise was based on a state teacher’s salary schedule that is significantly lower than theirs. So the money from the state doesn’t add up to 2 percent locally.

“The state simply pays less on their schedule and we pay more,” Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Meria Carstarphen said.

It's an all-too-familiar outcome for Georgia teachers. Last year, too, state leaders promised money would be set aside for teacher raises. But The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that only 40 percent of school districts passed along the money as salary hikes.

Another 40 percent used at least some of the money on a one-time bonus. Others used the money meant for raises to reduce teacher furloughs,a result of the recession, or to fill holes in their school system budgets.

Most districts have yet to complete their budgets for the coming school year. But in metro Atlanta, at least three districts do not intend to give teachers 2 percent raises — Cobb, Atlanta and DeKalb.

House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, said he’d heard rumblings about some districts not giving the full pay raise.

“I am disappointed that systems are not choosing to follow the intentions of the General Assembly that teachers get a 2 percent pay raise,” England said.

Cobb County educator John Palmer, spokesman for the teacher group TRAGIC, said it’s unfortunately predictable.

“Most teachers are not surprised that most districts, still struggling with over a decade of austerity cuts, are not able to give teachers the 2 percent raise,” Palmer said. “It’s simple economics, and it’s what happens when budgetary shell games meet reality.”

Claire Suggs, senior education policy analyst at the left-leaning Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, said districts are still facing significant austerity cuts —about $167 million this year alone. She said districts also face pressure from increasing health insurance costs and teacher pension systems contributions.

District leaders across Georgia are “keenly aware of the importance of paying a competitive salary,” Suggs said. “They’re just struggling with some real budget challenges.”

In metro Atlanta, Cobb County schools proposed a one-time 1.1 percent bonus for all permanent employees, including teachers and other staff members, as well as a full step increase — a raise for an additional year of experience — for eligible employees. That step increase will amount to a raise of about 1.5 percent.

The district awarded cost-of-living raises in the past two years, Cobb chief financial officer Brad Johnson said. But continuing financial pressure ruled cost-of-living raises out for this year, he said. Cobb allows senior citizens to opt out of paying school property taxes, and the county expects to forgo about $90 million in revenue from that exemption in the coming year. That is an increase of about $12 million from this school year’s budget, he said. Austerity cuts — a reduction from what districts are supposed to receive from the state under the school funding formula — account for another $10 million foregone.

Cobb, like most other metro districts, already pays teachers significantly more than the state minimum salary schedule.

“We’ve been trying to do as much as we possibly can…for our employees, but there is a limit to the money,” Johnson said.

Atlanta Public Schools' proposed budget includes a 1.5 percent raise for most employees. The state funding works out to a raise of less than 2 percent for Atlanta staff because the district's salary schedule is already higher than the state's minimum salary schedule, district chief financial officer Robert Morales said.

DeKalb too has proposed awarding teachers raises in its coming budget that would amount to 2 percent on the state salary schedule, but slightly less on the district’s local salary schedule, district chief financial officer Michael Bell said. Those raises come on top of a series of raises for teachers totalling 5 percent in the current year.

Gwinnett County schools has proposed a 2 percent cost-of-living increase for all full-time employees. Fulton County has proposed a 2-percent pay raise for teachers and 1 percent for staff.

Jen Talaber Ryan, the governor's spokeswoman, said Deal has pushed for teacher pay raises the last few years.

“It is the governor’s sincere hope that school boards pass this raise along to classroom teachers as intended by both he and the General Assembly,” she said.