By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
Edgecombe County Public Schools
North Carolina teachers’ salaries rank 46th in the nation, a Wednesday report to the North Carolina Board of Education revealed. The average teacher’s salary last year was $45,933, nearly $10,000 less than the national average. Five years ago, North Carolina teacher salaries were in the middle of the state rankings.
“The impact the economy has had across our nation and the state freeze on salary increases for three years has certainly had an effect on where North Carolina falls in national teacher salary rankings. There is no question that the state needs to consider significantly raising the North Carolina salary scale for our teachers,” said Edgecombe County Public Schools (ECPS) Superintendent John Farrelly. Only two Southeastern states – West Virginia and Mississippi – pay teachers less than North Carolina.
Teachers typically do not receive significant pay raises until their fifth year on the job. In ECPS, 120 out of 410 teachers have four years’ experience or less, meaning they are at the bottom of the pay scale, making $30,800 annually if they have only a bachelor’s degree. Teacher pay increases with each advanced degree/ certification.
At the current rate of pay, teachers holding only a bachelor’s degree won’t exceed a $40,000 annual salary until they have 15 years of experience, according to statistics from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI).
Last school year, teachers with three years of experience or less made $30,430 annually, where teachers with four years of experience made $30,850 annually, $50 more than they make this school year, according to DPI.
“Raising the scale would be a step in the direction of improving our ability to recruit and retain outstanding teachers,” Farrelly said. “It would also in my opinion make the profession more attractive in coming years to high school and college students who would consider going into the profession. While most educators go in to the profession because they love children, at the same time they need to make a living and should be compensated as such.”
Currently, ECPS offers a $2,000 signing bonus to teachers who take "hard-to-fill" positions (exceptional children's, math and science) at the beginning of the year. If a teacher begins in one of those positions at the beginning of second semester, he/she receives a $1,000 bonus.
North Carolina’s low annual salaries have sparked concerns about teacher retention. The state’s public schools have lost more than 4,000 teachers within the first three years of their careers since 2008, the report stated. The turnover rate for ECPS teachers last school year was 17.88 percent.
“I’m happy to say that the majority of our teachers have been fairly stable and truly love teaching,” said Evelyn Wilson, vice-chair of the Edgecombe County Board of Education. “The younger the teachers are, the harder it is to keep them…We’ve got to come up with something that’s going to motivate and energize (them).”
To Wilson, the pay rate of young public school teachers is a “real concern.” The lack of interest in entering the education field is something that Wilson said she hears frequently in conversations with the “new generation.”
“They always bring up the pay.” Wilson said. “It’s something that we need to go about addressing. If we don’t focus on it, then we’ll keep hearing the same thing, ‘We don’t have many students entering into that field.’”
Wilson’s idea is to offer housing incentives for young teachers moving to Edgecombe County from other states/ counties, and to follow up with grants and/ or bonuses. She also wants to get high school and university guidance counselors on board with encouraging students to enter the teaching profession.
Pay for excellence in teaching is a component of the Excellent Public Schools Act, passed by the North Carolina General Assembly last June.
“I have mixed feelings on incentive pay models and initiatives. While I can see the concept of rewarding outstanding performance, merit pay could tear away at the concepts of teamwork, collaboration and the student first philosophy we have in ECPS,” Farrelly stated.
North East Carolina Prep School
Teacher salaries at North East Carolina Prep School (NECP), Edgecombe County’s first-year public charter school, are in line with the North Carolina Public Schools. A Wednesday report to the North Carolina Board of Education revealed that the state ranks 46th in the nation for teachers’ salaries.
“Of course, anybody involved in education would love to see teachers’ salaries go up,” said Taro Knight, director of communications/community outreach for NECP. “What we have to do is put pressure on all our elected officials to get North Carolina commensurate with other states,”
Knight said. Salary is “not the No. 1 factor” that brings teachers to NECP, where 13 out of 33 teachers have less than five years of teaching experience. Those teachers make $30,800 annually if they have only their bachelor’s degree.
One of NECP’s young teachers is Mike Fink, a first-year exceptional children’s teacher with a master’s degree who came to North Carolina from New York, where he couldn’t find a job.
“There’s no job market in New York for teachers. We have teachers all over (the state) who are hungry to get into the classroom and teach,” Fink said.
“I don’t think it (salary) is as big a factor as you’d find in some other fields,” he added. “I know it wasn’t a deterrent for me,”
For Fink, the reward of teaching is not the paycheck, but rather “being able to work with children and get them to where they want to be.” Fink said he also appreciates the fact that NECP administrators are “always willing to listen” to teachers’ ideas.
NECP does not offer supplements for Nationally Certified teachers or administrators, as the state’s public schools do, so the school has to figure that lack of supplement into the initial annual salary offered to the teacher/ administrator, Knight stated. On the other hand, the charter school has attracted retired teachers from the North Carolina Public Schools, who have two sources of income – their annual salary and their state retirement.
“By opting out of the state retirement system, we were able to hire some retired teachers without them worrying about their retirement being cut,” Knight said. He added that pairing younger teachers with more experienced teachers creates the right “mix” of educators at NECP.
“The goal is to put teachers that have experience with teachers that are exuberant and innovative,” said Knight.