Johnston County

Teacher turnover spikes in Johnston

The State of North Carolina pays all of its public school teachers the same, depending on their years of service. But that doesn’t mean all teachers take home the same paycheck.

Most counties in the Tar Heel State pay a salary supplement on top of the state wage, and because those supplements vary from county to county, annual pay from one school district to the next can differ by thousands of dollars.

This past school year, Johnston County lost 14 percent of its classroom teachers – roughly 300 teachers – and of those who left, about a third went to another county. That was the largest category of departures, and school leaders think Johnston’s comparatively low salary supplement was to blame.

The 2014-15 departures were up 8 percent from the year before. In 2013-14, the number of teachers leaving the county actually fell 12.7 percent from the year before.

Brian Vetrano, director of human resources for Johnston County schools, said the state requires school districts to compile a teacher-turnover report each year. Teachers, he said, leave Johnston classrooms for many reasons: Some depart for better pay in another county; some retire; some become administrators. Others change careers; others leave because their families are relocating.

Among the many reasons, the least troubling is promotion to school administration, Vetrano said. “If we’re promoting leaders in our county, we’re doing what we should,” he said.

Among neighboring counties, Johnston County’s 14-percent loss this past year was not remarkable. It was slightly below the state average and just above Wake County’s turnover rate. Harnett County experienced the biggest loss among nearby counties, with a turnover rate around 19 percent.

But when it came to teachers leaving one county for another, Johnston’s were more worrisome. While Johnston kept more total teachers than the state average, its percentage of teachers leaving for another county was 8 percentage points higher than the state rate. Neighboring Wake County was the largest beneficiary of Johnston flight, hiring more than half of all Johnston teachers who left for another school district.

“There was a substantial increase in teachers leaving for another locality,” Vetrano said.

Johnston County’s local salary supplement ranges from 8.5 percent for new teachers to 11.5 percent for teachers with 25 or more years of experience. The state pays beginning teachers $35,000 and 25-year veterans $50,000, putting Johnston County’s top salary at roughly $57,000 with the supplement included. Wake County’s supplement ranges from 17.25 percent to 23.25 percent, meaning its most experienced teachers stand to make $4,000 more annually than their Johnston counterparts.

“They are throwing out a bunch of money, and it can really make a difference for those teachers who are getting ready to retire,” said Johnston Superintendent of Schools Ed Croom.

When asked by school board member Peggy Smith, Vetrano said the mix of those leaving for a teaching job in another district was fairly evenly split between younger and older teachers.

“We’re going to have to do something,” Croom said. “This has caught up with us.”

Johnston County’s salary supplement is actually pretty attractive when not compared to Wake’s, and Johnston uses it to help recruit more teachers. Harnett County teachers receive an additional $2,000 to $2,600 per year, Wayne County teachers receive a 6.5-percent supplement, and Sampson County earn a 7-percent supplement.

Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson