Sunday September 25th, 2022 4:02PM

Teachers looking to lawmakers, governor for a pay raise

By The Associated Press
<p>When the new Georgia Legislature convenes, lawmakers can be sure of one thing _ the state's teachers will be watching, and they are becoming impatient.</p><p>Teachers have long been a constituency that state politicians have courted. Georgia's roughly 100,000 public school teachers were considered key to Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue's election in 2002 when many, disenchanted with then-Gov. Roy Barnes, swung to Perdue's side and brought their friends and family with them.</p><p>Since then, teachers say, times have been tough.</p><p>A recession-drained state budget left no room for teacher pay increases in 2003 and a 2-percent raise approved in 2004 won't appear in teachers' paychecks until January, after nearly half this school year has passed.</p><p>Meanwhile, budget cuts have meant fewer resources in some schools. Many of the smaller class sizes mandated by Barnes' 2000 education reform act have been postponed year after year and, like other state employees, teachers have seen their share of their health insurance bills rise _ increasing at a far greater rate than their salaries.</p><p>"They've been patient," said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the 60,000-member Professional Association of Georgia Educators, saying teachers understand a poor economy has hurt the state. "I think they've granted sort of a grace period on that. But I think that grace period could be coming to an end."</p><p>The state's economy has shown signs of recovery. But the turnaround is slow and subtle, and state coffers lag behind private businesses in seeing the effects of a rebound.</p><p>Perdue faces re-election in less than two years. How teachers view him and Republican lawmakers who control both chambers of the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction could be greatly colored by how they fare during this year's General Assembly.</p><p>"They are a constituency that feels like they were important in (Perdue's) election," said University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock. "They have not reaped any rewards. I don't know if they accept the argument that these are tough times."</p><p>Gov. Perdue is not yet detailing his agenda for the upcoming legislative session. But a Perdue spokesman said education will be at the top of his list.</p><p>"The children of the state of Georgia are a top priority to Gov. Perdue and his administration," said Perdue spokesman Dan McLagan. "That's where a great deal of our focus is going to be. We've made strides but obviously we've got a long way to go."</p><p>For the past two years, Perdue has pushed an education agenda that added new classroom discipline tools for teachers and gave local systems more spending flexibility.</p><p>Many teachers have been pleased with parts of that agenda, and with a Perdue-approved bill that gave new appeal powers to teachers singled out for termination.</p><p>But teachers say pocketbook concerns trump warm thoughts over those legislative wins.</p><p>Merchuria Chase Williams, president of the 40,000-member Georgia Association of Educators, said teachers' share of their state health insurance bills increased 20 percent last year and are expected to go up another 15 percent to 20 percent this year.</p><p>Those increases more than offset the state's 2-percent pay raise _ which she calls a 1-percent raise, since it will only be in effect for half the school year.</p><p>"Teachers are now finding themselves in the same position that senior citizens find themselves in _ 'Do I get a prescription filled or do I pay this bill?'" said Williams. "This is a crisis and teachers are saying so."</p><p>If that situation keeps up, teachers say, it could have repercussions at the ballot box in 2006, not only for Perdue, but for state lawmakers.</p><p>"The bottom line is 'What have you done for us lately?'" Callahan said. "I think that question will start to manifest itself this year."</p>
  • Associated Categories: State News
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