Wake County school leaders say pay raises have helped bring in both new and seasoned educators this year.
Two years ago, leaders warned that many teachers were leaving Wake because they were dissatisfied with statewide education policies. On Monday, they painted a brighter picture of teacher recruitment and retention leading up to the Aug. 29 start for traditional-calendar schools.
The General Assembly for the past few years has raised teacher pay, including an average 4.7 percent raise this year.
Last year, Wake increased local supplemental pay for teachers between $875 and $3,202, outpacing surrounding school districts. The state covers teacher salaries, but districts can supplement their pay.
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This year, Wake is not increasing the percentage of supplemental pay, but some teachers will see more because of higher state salaries.
Richard Zinser, who graduated from N.C. State University in the spring, said the pay rate in Wake convinced him to apply. On Monday, he attended training for his new job as a technology education teacher at Fuquay-Varina High School.
“The salary supplement in Wake County was higher,” he said. “I already had housing in the area and so it made it easier for me to choose here.”
Doug Thilman, Wake’s assistant superintendent for human resources, said statewide pay raises, along with local supplements, have helped Wake bring in teachers.
“Obviously, money makes a difference in people’s lives,” he said.
It’s unclear how many teaching vacancies Wake currently has. Last summer, the district had more than 100 vacancies in the days before the start of the school year – a slightly higher-than-normal number.
“With the continuing process of hiring right up until the start of school it’s difficult to predict exactly how many true vacancies we have right now, but we’re closing the gap of whatever that is quickly,” Thilman said.
Wake has hired nearly 1,600 new teachers this summer. About 475 of them are veteran educators, and about 413 are in the first three years of their careers, school leaders said Monday. More than half are from North Carolina.
The school district is expected to have more than 19,000 employees this school year – more than 10,000 of them teachers, Thilman said.
Last year, Wake hired or re-hired about 1,067 teachers and employed about 18,950 people, according to district records.
Thilman said 1,500 of the “finest-quality” teachers attended a Wake County schools job fair this spring.
“Our brand carries us strongly, and we know that,” he said. “But when we can take care of all our employees in the appropriate manner through compensation that certainly does help.”
In previous years, some have expressed worries about lower enrollment at state universities for students pursuing teaching degrees.
The Republican-led General Assembly voted in 2013 to eliminate teacher tenure, which provides some protections. For example, tenured teachers can only be fired for one of 15 specific reasons.
The legislature also eliminated the Teaching Fellows Program, which provided scholarships to students who agreed to spend at least four years teaching in the state.
Morgan Williams, who attended teacher orientation Monday, graduated from Mississippi College last year and moved to Wake Forest with her husband. She will now teach Spanish at Root Elementary in Raleigh.
Williams said she considered several surrounding school districts and private schools, but she chose Wake because it is convenient and friends spoke highly of it.
“Their professionalism really helped me decide that this was a really nice county,” she said.
Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi