Editorial: We’re asking — vote yes on the quarter-cent sales tax

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“In all the years that I’ve served on the school board, every single school board member has wanted to raise teacher salaries, every single superintendent has wanted to raise salaries,” says Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board member Elisabeth Motsinger in a video posted on the district’s Facebook page. “Every single teacher has wanted us to raise their salaries. And here is an opportunity to do just that.”

You won’t find many issues where local elected Democrats and Republicans, where members of both the school board and the Forsyth County Commission, are in accord. But a ballot initiative in Forsyth County to add a quarter-cent sales tax to pay for a teacher-pay supplement is one issue where they agree.

Former Commissioner Everette Witherspoon memorably implored the former superintendent, Beverly Emory, during her May 2018 budget presentation: “What this county has done with supplement funding is abysmal. And hopefully y’all come and ask the county this year during our budget for the funding…. You have the votes to get the supplement done. It’s just, do you and the school board have the will to ask for it?”

The state pays public school teachers their base salaries, but every county provides a supplement. One of the five largest school districts in the state, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools ranks 19th in average teacher supplement, behind Guilford County Schools (10th), Durham County Schools (6th), Wake County Schools (3rd) and Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Schools (2nd).

The school board and the county commission in Forsyth finally came together to find a way to fund a proper teacher-pay supplement. It’s not a big ask for voters.

“Do we want to get the best teachers we can?” Commission Chair Dave Plyer asked during a recent candidate forum at the Central Library in downtown Winston-Salem. “Or do we want to take the cheapest teachers we can afford, and just roll along and sing a song?  I think that’s wrong, and I think we need to continue what we’re going to do. And when I mentioned March 3rd, I mentioned that because we are asking you — the commissioners and the school board — to take one quarter of a penny added to a sales tax, which will provide between $13- and $14 million for the teachers. That could be between $2,000-$3,000 more for them, and will make us more competitive. We’ve got to do that.”

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