Johnston scrambling to staff schools

Johnston County schools will start classes later this month with fewer teaching vacancies than last year, but still with a hole of 69 teachers to fill.

The school district has hired 207 new teachers, human resources director Brian Vetrano told the school board during its August meeting.

Last year Johnston opened with 79 vacancies and made little ground in hiring by the winter break. Vetrano said he is encouraged by this year’s number.

“I’m excited at this point that we’re below where we were last year at this point,” he said. “I’m happy with that number considering the teacher shortage we are facing and have been facing the last few years.”

Two year-round schools, West Smithfield Elementary and South Smithfield Elementary, opened with just one vacancy between them.

“In the event there are still vacancies when school begins, our principals will communicate with retired teachers and ensure we have a qualified individual in the classroom on day one,” Vetrano said. “That’s always been our plan.”

While Vetrano expects the vacancy number to shrink, it could end up going the other way. Since Wake County’s school system lifted its hiring freeze, Vetrano said, his office has seen an uptick in the number of resignations from teachers leaving for Wake and its higher local salary supplements. Johnston County passed a budget this year that included a 1 percent increase in salary supplements for teachers, a move intended to stop the flow of teachers from Johnston to Wake.

Vetrano suggested that Johnston can compete with other neighboring counties but might never compare favorably to Wake County.

“I’m not sure we’ll ever match what Wake does,” he said. “But we’re positioning ourselves well against other counties.”

School board chairman Larry Strickland asked what effect the county’s supplement increase seemed to have on retaining teachers.

“I would hope it did (keep the number of teachers leaving down),” Vetrano said. “I know the teachers receive the message of support and appreciate everything the board does for them. Obviously, it hasn’t kept everyone from leaving.”

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