Wake school leaders worry state changes will hurt teacher recruitment

khui@newsobserver.comFebruary 9, 2014 

— Wake County school leaders said Saturday that they’re worried about recruiting and retaining enough high-quality teachers for this fall because of low pay and state legislative changes phasing out tenure and additional pay for advanced degrees.

Wake hires more than 1,000 new teachers annually because of turnover and growth in the state’s largest school system, but school leaders said the numbers could be worse this year. As an early warning sign, administrators said Wake has already seen nearly double the number of teachers leaving to teach in other states.

“I’m very concerned about our recruiting this spring,” David Neter, Wake’s chief business officer, said at Saturday’s school board planning retreat at White Deer Park Nature Center in Garner.

During 2012-13, 31 Wake teachers told the district they resigned to teach in another state. Since March, 60 teachers have said they’ve resigned to teach in other states. Wake has 9,000 teachers.

“That 60 is probably not going to just double to 120,” said school board Vice Chairman Tom Benton. “It may quadruple.”

Administrators said they’ve also seen large percentage increases in resignations to teach in private schools and North Carolina charter schools.

Amy Auth, a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, said in a statement that statistics from the 2012-13 school year showed only 0.5 percent of the state’s 95,000 teachers had resigned to teach in another state.

The pay concerns are being raised as Gov. Pat McCrory and legislative leaders are set to announce Monday a new plan to raise pay for beginning teachers, according to state Rep. Paul Stam, an Apex Republican.

The starting salary for North Carolina teachers is $30,800, and Wake supplements the pay to raise it to $35,189. Under the current state pay scale, a beginning teacher would typically not get a raise until the seventh year.

“Beginning teachers deserve more,” Stam said in a phone interview. “No one disagrees with that.”

The average teacher salary in Wake is $46,245 – $243 less than in 2010.

“What really struck me is that there are people in state government who are making $80,000 when there are teaching couples who don’t have that combined,” Benton said.

But Stam said that if Wake was so concerned about pay, it could have reallocated $5 million in state funds from other parts of its budget to provide a 1 percent raise for teachers.

Recruiting may suffer

Wake is at the start of its spring recruitment drive, visiting colleges and job fairs in North Carolina and across the nation. School leaders said those efforts could be affected by the legislature’s decisions last year to phase out tenure and not extend to new teachers the roughly 10 percent additional annual pay they’d get for a master’s degree.

“We’re going to be put behind the eight ball with highly desired candidates,” Benton said. “It’s going to be increasingly harder to recruit them.”

Wake gets 200 new teachers a year from New York, which requires a master’s degree to be certified as a teacher.

“When they see they’re no longer going to get that supplement, are they still going to come to North Carolina?” Neter said. “That’s a big question mark.”

Stam said research shows that getting a master’s degree doesn’t improve teaching for the average teacher.

Neter also noted that districts are being required to offer 25 percent of their teachers a four-year contract with $500-a-year raises in return for teachers giving up tenure. He said teachers might not want to relocate to Wake from other North Carolina counties because they’d lose their four-year contracts.

Stam defended the elimination of tenure. He said tenure protected bad teachers and noted that only 17 teachers were dismissed statewide in 2011-12. But Wake Superintendent Jim Merrill said that argument is “foolishness,” because some teachers are counseled to resign.

“A lot of people don’t wait to be dismissed,” Merrill said.

For now, Doug Thilman, Wake’s assistant superintendent for human resources, said he doesn’t think the district’s teachers have let the state’s recent changes hurt education.

“They’ll wear red, and they’ll protest, and they’ll do other things,” he said. “But they’ll still go in and do their jobs.”

Hui: 919-829-4534

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