The average teacher salary in the Wake County school system has reached $50,000 for the first time following a state and local push in recent years to increase pay for educators.
The average Wake teacher salary in the 2015-16 school year was $50,803, according to the school system’s annual financial report released in November. Wake’s average salary was up 2.6 percent from $49,530 the previous year and comes after an election year in which political leaders argued over whether the average salary for North Carolina teachers had reached $50,000.
“It’s confirmation of what’s we’ve been saying in the General Assembly,” said state Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican and lead House budget writer. “We have made substantial progress in raising average teacher pay.”
Republican lawmakers had argued that the 2016-17 state budget, with its average teacher pay raise of 4.7 percent, had raised the average statewide teacher salary to $50,000. Democrats have disputed the claim and said the only way the $50,000 figure is possible is to include the amount that school districts provide to supplement the state-provided salaries.
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In February, the state Department of Public Instruction estimated the state’s average teacher salary at $47,931. The state will recalculate the amount in December.
Wake school board Chairman Tom Benton said he’s happy that the district’s average salary is above $50,000. But he said the figure is insignificant when not enough is being done to deal with the teacher shortage that could result from the sharp drop in enrollment at the UNC system’s 15 schools of education.
“Leaders are missing the mark when they talk about the $50,000 average,” Benton said. “What should be guiding the discussion, locally and statewide, particularity statewide, is what kind of salary structure is it going to take to attract some of our best and brightest students into the teaching profession?”
Wake, like the rest of the state, saw teacher salaries stagnate during the recession. Wake’s average teacher salary dropped $243 between the 2008-09 and 2012-13 school years. But since then, it’s risen $4,558 in the state’s largest school system.
“The reality is the General Assembly has made teacher pay clearly a priority coming out of the recession,” Dollar said. “We’ve raised starting teacher pay.”
The Wake County Board of Commissioners also helped raise teacher salaries in the 2015-16 school year by increasing education funding by a record $44.6 million. The extra funding raised the average teacher salary supplement in Wake to the largest in the state at $6,975.
“We’re doing everything we can to make this an attractive place to teach and learn,” said Wake County Commissioner John Burns. “To do that we have to improve compensation. We have made good strides, and I’m glad to see that number going up.”
Burns and other Democrats who swept the 2014 Wake commissioner seats had campaigned on raising education funding.
Wake Superintendent Jim Merrill had previously promoted the goal of raising teacher salaries to the national average, now around $58,000, by 2020. But school leaders are now talking about keeping teacher salaries competitive with other large school systems.
The staring salary for Wake teachers has risen from $34,462 in the 2011-12 school year to $41,037 this school year. Most new Wake educators would reach $50,000 a year in their 14th year of teaching.
While teacher salaries are going up, that says nothing about the quality of teachers in Wake County, according to Terry Stoops, director of education research studies for the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank in Raleigh.
“While many people are going to be pleased that teacher salaries are on the increase, we have very little sense whether the teachers receiving the increases are producing substantive gains in student achievement,” Stoops said.
Average teacher salary in Wake County school system
Source: Wake County Public School System