Teacher salaries among lowest in country

ajames@newsobserver.comJune 4, 2013 

— Teaching has never been a lucrative profession, but for teachers in North Carolina the salary freeze has made it even harder to pay bills and loans and to support a family.

At the most recent school board meeting, Johnston County Schools’ Chief Business Officer Robin Little presented to the school board an overview of what’s been happening to teacher salaries, and how it’s affecting the school system.

“It wasn’t a request for raises, but to make the public aware of what is happening to teacher salaries in North Carolina and the fact that we are losing teachers because of the frozen salary schedule,” Little said.

Teacher salaries in the state rank 49th in the nation.

Starting in the 2010-11 school year, educators’ salaries across the state were frozen. That means no raises and fewer steps to move up the pay ladder over time.

“It used to be that a person with zero years of experience made the least, but now a teacher with five years of teaching experience is making the same as someone with zero years’ experience,” Little said.

She said that doesn’t give any incentive for teachers to continue in their careers.

The pay for teachers with a bachelor’s degree from their first year to their fifth is $30,800.

This year, the school system gave teachers with up to eight years experience and a bachelor’s degree a supplement of 7.5 percent.

The amount of the supplement is decided by the county commissioners who choose how much money to give to the school board. The supplements vary by county and in Wake County are nearly double.

Teachers in Wake County with up to six years experience and a bachelor’s degree receive a supplement of 14.25 percent.

Little said that the Johnston County school system is losing teachers who are going to work at charter schools because they don’t have a salary freeze.

“When 18 percent, or almost one in five, of our teachers are paid at the bottom steps of the pay scale, that is very disheartening because these teachers work so hard and they get no recognition financially for what they do, and there are so many demands being placed on them,” Little said.

One teacher’s story

Clayton High School physics teacher Josh Beck is an example of how the salary freeze has affected teachers.

Now in his fifth year of teaching, Beck was recently named Johnston County Schools Teacher of the Year. Because of the salary freeze, he is still making the same amount he made his first year teaching.

“I think about my quality of teaching now, and what I do now is more valuable than what I was doing five years ago before I had experience,” Beck said.

He didn’t go into the profession to become wealthy, he said. It’s what he loves to do.

Not what he was promised

But, he said, the salary freeze has kept him from building his life.

“At some point you have to ask, how far can your passion for teaching and the kids carry you?” Beck said. “Eventually I’d like to buy a house, be able to support a family and start paying off student loans, and I’ve basically had to put that all off for five years.”

He said it’s not the low pay that is disappointing, but the fact that it’s not what he was promised going into the career. Just a year after he started his career, the pay freeze was implemented.

If the salary hadn’t been frozen, Beck would have received a cumulative total of $14,000 more than what he’s made in his career so far.

During his first couple years teaching, he tried to maintain a second job to supplement his income, but it was taking away from his teaching so he quit.

He still works during the summers, and in recent years has gone back to waiting tables and bartending at a place he worked in college to help supplement the low pay.

“I know excellent teachers who’ve left the profession because of this,” Beck said.

Whether it’s extra hours at school or at home, teaching is more than just hours in the classroom.

“I’m staying motivated, and (I) try to focus on the students in the classroom, but at what point do we start getting rewarded for doing our job?” Beck said.

James: 919-553-7234

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