While he won’t be part of finalizing the 2016-17 budget request for Johnston County schools, outgoing Superinendent Ed Croom thinks higher teacher pay supplements should be a priority.
Recently, Johnston schools reported an exodus of teachers to neighboring Wake County, where teachers receive twice the local supplement at any stage of their career.
“We all know of the challenge we’ve had with keeping teachers,” Croom said.
Johnston lost 321 teachers last year, with a third leaving for another county’s classrooms; around 50 left for Wake County alone. Others leave teaching for another profession, and many retire.
In North Carolina, most teacher salary dollars come from the state, which bases pay largely on years of experience. But counties offer salary supplements to recruit new teachers and retain the ones they have.
Wake County’s supplement ranges from 17.25 percent of state pay for new teachers to 23.25 percent for teachers with 25 or more years of experience. Johnston’s supplement begins at 8.5 percent and ends at 11.5.
The pay disparity could explain why more than two dozen Johnston County classrooms are without a teacher well into the second semester. The county began the year with 48 vacancies; the number stood at 33 two months into the school year. It’s been falling gradually since then.
“You’ll see retirements and hires during the school year,” Croom said. “We’re always looking for quality teachers.”
Raising Johnston’s comparatively low local supplement could be a step in the right direction, Croom said. “We need to try and increase our supplement,” he said. “It’s going to be a priority. But ultimately, that is you all’s decision.”
Croom said hopes the board will look at all Johnston supplements, even those for administrators. In some cases, he noted, assistant principals could make more money if they returned to the classroom to teach.
Raising supplements won’t be easy, school board member Peggy Smith said. In the past, Johnston compared favorably to neighboring counties, but Wayne, Sampson and Nash have caught up. Smith fears chasing Wake County money is a game Johnston can’t win.
“We passed a supplement increase two times in the past four years,” she said. “And we’re still 10 percent or so behind Wake. We’re not just looking at one percentage point.”
Board of Education chairman Larry Strickland said the school district could only do so much in setting teacher pay, as County Commissioners ultimately write the check.
“We always submit one budget and always have to deal with cuts,” Strickland said. “It always comes back a little less.”