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Some teachers face pay cut
Certification bonus likely to go
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Forsyth County News
After learning her salary would be cut by about 10 percent, Cathy Helmuth went to a coupon savings class to learn how to trim her family’s budget.

Helmuth is one of more than 2,000 Georgia teachers who face losing a bonus they once received for being certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

“We’ve had to learn how to crunch and to conserve considerably,” said Helmuth, who has two sons in college and one in high school. “That is a substantial amount of funding to my yearly income to lose.”

Now in her eighth year in the Forsyth County school system, Helmuth teaches gifted and talented English language arts at North Forsyth Middle School.

Since 2003, she has been a National Board certified teacher, a title that carries clout as well as an investment of time and money — specifically, a $2,500 application fee.

Having the increase in salary has been nice, Helmuth said, but it wasn’t the main reason she went for the certification.

“It was the best experience I’ve ever had. It makes me the teacher I am every day,” she said, noting her 10-year renewal is only a couple years away.

“It will cost me a significant amount of money ... but I believe it was that valuable, and my students benefit from that, and so I will do it again.”

Candy Norton, chief human resources director for the system, said 70 of the county’s 2,700 certified staff members hold national board status.

In previous years, the state has provided between $3,600 and $7,200 a year for each national board teacher. The school system paid a specific amount to the teachers each month, and would then receive state money at year’s end.

Last year, however, Norton said the system got “$70,000 less than they originally told us for fiscal year 2009.”

Instead of awarding the money up front, Norton said, teachers were notified in July that the system would withhold their national board bonuses until receiving money from the state.

Because of cutbacks, the largest bonus currently in the state budget for a board certified teacher is $3,300.

But Gail Tillery, a teacher at North Forsyth High, said she’ll believe it when she sees it.

“For me, if I see that money it’s going to be a blessing, because I don’t believe the state is going to come through,” she said. “No board-certified teacher is counting on that money right now.”

Including the $900 she’s already losing for the three furlough days required of all teachers, Tillery faces an additional $6,500 loss.

“I’m cutting down spending to the bone. I’m being very, very, very frugal,” she said. “I’m watching every penny that leaves my wallet.”

Like Helmuth, Tillery said going without the money will be rough, but the most frustrating part is that the cut is diminishing the significance of the certification, which she compared to earning an Oscar at the Academy Awards.

“We feel very disappointed and I think it’s just such a blow to our morale,” she said. “The national board is the most authentic, rigorous and challenging professional development there is ... in this country.

“I’m light years ahead of where I was as a teacher before the national board. We are the most accomplished teachers in this state ... and to have this promise broken is just really disappointing and hurtful.”

About 2 percent of the state’s teachers are board certified. Tillery said that number may not increase if there’s no monetary incentive.

“I don’t know how I’m going to sell it to my colleagues if there’s no monetary reward,” she said. “I don’t know what our legislators are up against, but I firmly believe you find money for the things that are important to you.”