Teacher turnover in North Carolina reaches five-year high

lbonner@newsobserver.comDecember 4, 2013 

Teacher turnover in North Carolina reached a five-year high last year with more teachers leaving their classrooms to take new jobs in education or move.

About 14.3 percent of teachers left their positions in the 2012-13 school year, according to the annual report, up from 12.1 percent in 2011-12.

School districts employed 95,028 teachers last year, and local districts reported 13,616 left for a variety of reasons.

As in previous years, most of the teachers who left their jobs did so for other education jobs in and outside the classroom.

A relative handful of teachers resigned because they were dissatisfied with teaching or changed careers, but the numbers are steadily increasing; 887 last year compared with 541 in 2008-09. Early retirements are also up, from 228 in 2008-09 to 574 last year.

Information on job departures is self-reported, said Lynne Johnson, director of educator effectiveness at the state Department of Public Instruction. Some teachers who were about to be dismissed from their jobs may have reported they were dissatisfied or were changing careers, she said.

Though the report does not cover the current school year, the State Board of Education discussion Wednesday was more about the current environment than what happened in the past.

Teachers are angry about stagnant salaries, the phase-out of tenure, and the end to pay increases for earning advanced degrees. Teachers and parents protested low salaries and new education policies at schools around the state last month. The state ranked 46th in the nation for average teacher pay in 2011-12.

Throughout the day, as the board moved through subjects from board goals to testing, members talked about the need to improve teacher pay.

The strategic plan the board is working on states its intention to “attract, retain and reward” highly effective school staff.

Gov. Pat McCrory and legislators are talking about pay increases, but no one has produced details.

“There’s unity in wanting to pay teachers more and pay them more as soon as possible,” said state board Chairman Bill Cobey. “It’s figuring out how to do it.”

15 years, $40,000

One of the factors that has fueled teacher anger is the pay scale. Teachers without advanced degrees or national certification must work 15 years before they clear $40,000 a year on the state pay scale.

Jennifer Welker of Wake Forest may turn up in next year’s turnover report. Welker, a former kindergarten teacher in Raleigh, resigned her job this year but is thinking of returning because the sales job she had lined up didn’t pan out.

Welker has tenure and more than 10 years’ teaching experience in Wake and Guilford counties but said she makes $35,000 a year, the same as a first-year teacher in Wake.

Welker’s pay hadn’t increased in years, but her frustrations with new requirements did. The latest headache was the new computer program teachers must use to issue report cards that had Welker and others wrestling with the technology for long hours.

Welker and her husband, a teacher in Franklin County, have two children, ages 6 and 3. They make the same as they did before the children were born, she said. A big reason for their move from Guilford to Wake County was to be near family who could take care of the children because the couple were not able to afford day care.

“I want to stay in education,” said Welker, 37. “I found my passion. And then, they wouldn’t pay us.”

Bonner: 919-829-4821; Twitter: @Lynn_Bonner

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