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Average teacher pay in NC falls short of $50,000 mark

Posted February 3

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— Average teacher pay in North Carolina this school year falls short of the $50,000 mark touted by state lawmakers and former Gov. Pat McCrory last fall, according to data released this week by the Department of Public Instruction.

The actual figure is $49,837, which is hardly a huge miss at less than $200 off the mark, but critics say that gap points to deeper problems with how state and local governments pay educators.

"Teachers know better than anyone that political rhetoric in Raleigh doesn’t always match up with reality. It’s time to get serious about raising teacher pay, and I'm working with members of both parties to get it done," said Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat who took office on Jan. 1.

Legislative leaders say that, although the exact number is off the mark, they followed through on their promise.

"Legislative Republicans have met their goal of providing teachers an average $50,000 annual salary. The figure provided by DPI is 99.7 percent, which any statistician would round up to $50,000," said Amy Auth, a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.

Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, who also took office last month, said lawmakers are moving in the right direction on salaries, and he plans to keep pushing for more increases.

"Teacher pay is definitely a priority, and that’s something that was mentioned in my conversations with teachers," Johnson said. "I hope that no one makes too much of a political issue of this, just missing it by about $150. I would hate for that to be a political talking point. We’re moving in the right direction, but teachers want to be in the classroom teaching. They need to be paid what the free market is demanding."

Teacher pay has long been been both a political and a practical question for North Carolina politicians, who need to keep classrooms staffed and appease voters who consistently rank education as a top priority. Since a major push to raise average educator salaries in the 1990s, pay has eroded under the weight of inflation and more expensive benefit costs.

North Carolina has long been ranked in the bottom quartile of states when it comes to paying classroom teachers.

Over the past four years, McCrory, a Republican, and GOP allies at the General Assembly pledged to reverse the decline, first bumping minimum salaries for classroom teachers up to $35,000 and then last year setting a goal of making the average teacher salary $50,000. McCrory and Republican lawmakers campaigned on that pledge, but it was unclear throughout the fall if they had actually achieved their goal.

According to officials with the Department of Public Instruction, the $50,000 estimate by lawmakers was based on the group of teachers employed as of the 2015-16 school year. Retirements by more senior teacher meant there were fewer individuals earning the higher salaries on the pay scale, which in turn dragged down the actual figure.

Meanwhile, many teachers complained the $50,000 number doesn't reflect reality for many teachers, especially those in less wealthy school systems or those who had not amassed enough seniority to move up the pay scale.

"I think the big picture here is that the General Assembly gave a false impression that salaries would reach $50,000," said Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, the largest educator advocacy group in the state. "The majority of teachers are not even close to $50,000."

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, a former principal who took a lead role on education issues last session, said lawmakers had already set their sights on new salary goals for teachers.

"If it's not there, we need to get it there, and not only that, we need to get it to $55,000," Tillman said.

While state taxpayers foot the bill for the bulk of teacher salaries, what educators actually earn varies from one school system to another. In wealthier systems, such as Wake County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro, local governments provide supplements to make their systems more attractive to top teachers. Without those supplements, the average base teacher salary in the state would be $45,191.

Both lawmakers and school administrators calculate average teacher salary in line with a method laid out by the National Education Association so that North Carolina's figures can be compared to other states. Those figures are also used by the federal government, and the numbers factor in both base salary provided by the state as well as supplements provided by local governments.

The $55,000 figure Tillman cited echoes pledges from other legislative leaders. On the opening day of the legislative session, Berger staked out a promise for the coming budgets.

"We'll continue efforts to reform and improve public educations for our students and have already committed to raising average teacher pay to $55,000 over the next two years," Berger, R-Rockingham, said.

Jewell said that he appreciates the commitment to push teacher salaries even higher. He added that state leaders have also long talked about further revamping the salary schedule to provide multiple professional pathways to both stay in the classroom and earn more while taking on more responsibility.

"At least there is a commitment that we will continue to move our teacher salaries forward," he said.

Newly sworn in Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson said that he backed legislative efforts to raise teacher salary up to $55,000 and said that the state was moving in the right direction.

"I hope that no one makes too much of a political issue of this, just missing it by about $150," Johnson said. "I would hate for that to be a political talking point. We’re moving in the right direction, but teachers want to be in the classroom teaching. They need to be paid what the free market is demanding, and the General Assembly has promised to get it to $55,000, and I will help the General Assembly do that."

38 Comments

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  • Tonia Gist Feb 8, 4:12 a.m.
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    Please keep in mind this number is an average. I have been teaching 8 years and just hit the 40,000 salary mark this year and this includes my supplement paid by my county.

  • Tonia Gist Feb 8, 4:10 a.m.
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    No school employees are paid for vacation time. We are only paid for sick days if we have accumulated them. Over the school year you earn annual leave days which by the way cannot be taken during a regular school day. We have to use these days to keep a pay check over Christmas break and spring break or otherwise we are not paid for this time.

  • Tonia Gist Feb 8, 4:07 a.m.
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    Just for future reference: teachers are not paid when it snows. We are required to take leave time or make up the hours missed. If we elect to make up hours missed we must do so when it is NOT a school day or workday. For example if a workday (which is required for a teacher workday) is now used as a snow make up day for students this does not make up teacher hours because we were required to work that day anyway. In my school district we are required to work hours in addition to our regular day to make up hours missed, use a annual leave day if you have days accumulated or you have to take the snow day off without pay. Most teachers elect to make up the hours because we general always have parent teacher conferences or something after school where we can log make up hours.

  • Tonia Gist Feb 8, 3:55 a.m.
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    Mr. Hales, as a teacher I assure you that NC does not pay teachers for 12 months and most teachers only work 9 months. If you look at the pay scale for teachers it breaks it down as to what our monthly salary is. For example my is around 3,950.00 each month before taxes. This is only considered for 10 months or through June. In order to receive a summer check you must have money withheld from you monthly check to stretch your salary to cover the summer months. For me this is a deduction of around $600 dollars each month off the top before taxes. If you do not elect this as your pay option you are not paid for months that you are not in the classrooom. The same thing with insurance if not on this pay scale you pay double May and June for family health insurance which could be on average a I've $1,200 those 2 months.

  • Marianne Ashworth Feb 7, 10:51 a.m.
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    I'd like to know how my w-2 shows that I made $1000 less last year than in previous years. I thought we got a pay raise last year, not a pay cut. I'm not the only one either. Several of my teacher friends noticed the same thing. $1000

  • William James Feb 6, 11:45 a.m.
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    NC Gov is tweaking the statistics, if they subtract the research triangle and Charlotte average pay would drop far below 50K because they are paid less from the start and don't receive supplemental pay from the county like the richer counties. Also this unfair pay practice makes it nearly impossible to recruit and retain high skilled teachers from outside and ensures these same schools will remain low performing. Sure poring money on the problem is'nt always the answer, but I am willing bet there is a direct correlation to teacher pay and student performance. Not that one causes the other, rather that the lowest paid teachers are working in the poorest districts, with kids with the fewest resources.

  • Daryl Hales Feb 6, 11:28 a.m.
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    Teachers do work long hours, however the state pays them their 12 month salary, they only work 9 months. The counties pay a supplement, which puts them way above the $50,000. mark, plus vacation and retirement, sick time, and all holidays off. When compared to other school employees, such as custodial, cafeteria workers, and teacher assistants, who work just as hard and longer hours, for a 1/3 of the pay, along with no vacation time, and only get 9 months of pay for 9 months (Wake County schools), oh and most don't get breaks, like the teachers do. The TA's have to cover lunch periods, bus duty, and regular classrooms, when the teachers get planning periods as well as lunch breaks. The teachers today have it made when compared to the teachers from the 70's and 80's.

  • Betsy Sparks Feb 5, 2:30 p.m.
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    When you look at the average salary for NC as a whole, you're forgetting that statistic includes workers without a college education. All teachers have at minimum an undergraduate degree. That also means that a number of teachers are paying off student loans, an expense that workers with college degrees don't have to pay. It would be great if NC restores the teaching fellows program - teaching students get state school tuition paid if they commit to teaching in NC public schools for 4 years. If they teach less, they have to pay back for the years they didn't complete. No crippling student loans, and a pool of teachers committed to NC public schools.

    And when people call teaching a 9-month job, they're forgetting about teachers at year-round schools. They get their breaks 3 weeks at a time, so getting a part-time job during breaks is not a realistic option.

  • Jeff Freuler Feb 4, 11:14 a.m.
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    Most state employees salaries fall short as well so why are you, the media, just singling out teachers? There are others that work for the state besides teachers.

  • Jacob Smith Feb 4, 11:03 a.m.
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    It is interesting that these bleeding hearts that try to refuse vouchers for people to send their kids to Catholic and other privates schools actually send their own children to the same - INCKLUDING the Obama's! Same goes for medical care - none of these "progressives" that saddled middle class families with that requirement had to do the same themselves!
    Kids from private schools are not "behind" because, just like business, the schools either perform of they go bankrupt. No unions to perpetuate mediocrity.

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