Education

NC teachers: Low pay forces some from profession, state

Posted August 28, 2013
Updated August 29, 2013

— More than 1.5 million students returned to school across North Carolina this week, but not all teachers decided to come back as well.

Cameron Shumay said this is the first time he hasn't been part of back-to-school week in 13 years.

"I did miss it a little bit," said Shumay, a former Carnage Middle School science teacher.

After years of teaching and having to work two jobs to make ends meet, he now works for a consulting firm in Research Triangle Park.

A few years ago, North Carolina was close to the national average in teacher pay. Six years of state budget cuts and pay freezes have left the state 46th in teacher salaries and 48th in per-student spending. John Silverstone 03/06: Report: NC teacher pay slides against peer states

The state's average teacher salary of $45,967 is almost $10,000 less than the national average. Starting pay for a teacher in North Carolina is $30,800 a year, and it takes 15 years to get to $40,000.

"We love what we do, but we also have to make a living," said Paula Trantham, principal of Millbrook Elementary Magnet School.

Trantham said she recently lost teachers to Kentucky and Tennessee. In addition to frustration over pay, she said, there's a lot of anger among teachers at state legislators for eliminating tenure rights for veteran teachers and ending extra pay for teachers with advanced degrees.

Many teachers feel not just underpaid, but disrespected, she said.

"It was like anything that we had had been taken from us," she said. "It was just, like, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. It was just overwhelming, and I think that's when teachers went, 'Whoa, no more.'"

Shumay said his decision to leave teaching was only partly about the money.

"With some of the different changes in policy that have come through, I kind of saw the writing on the wall," he said.

Classroom generic Teachers say they feel state officials don't respect them

Other teachers are leaving North Carolina instead of leaving the profession.

"It was like an epiphany. We don't have to stay here," said Stephen Solis, who worked at Panther Creek High School in Cary.

Both Solis and his wife are educators, yet they struggled to get by. In two weeks, the family is moving to Colorado, where Solises will earn 30 percent more than he does here.

He was born in Apex and hates to leave, but he said he's worried about his own children and their education.

"My twin girls are 4 years old. They're going to be going into elementary school in a year," he said. "What is our system going to look like in five years?

"What kind of a state are we going to be? Who’s going to want to bring their business here – even with the low tax rate – if we have a public education system that is 48th in the nation in not only teacher pay but in test scores?"

State Department of Public Instruction officials don't have hard data on the number of teachers opting out, but local school administrators say it is rising.

"I don’t think, in Wake County, we’ll see a shortage of teachers," Trantham said. "I think, in other areas, in more rural areas in North Carolina, I definitely think they’re going to see a shortage of teachers."

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, said he believes lawmakers will give teachers a decent raise next year and may reinstate the extra pay for teachers who earn advanced degrees.

Horn helped write the state budget, but he said the money just wasn't there this year for raises after lawmakers addressed tax reform and a shortfall in Medicaid funding.

"I don't know one single person in the legislature who doesn't want to give teachers a raise," he said.

Teachers are leaving Union County to work in South Carolina, and Horn said he's hopeful some of the teachers who have left North Carolina will eventually come back.

Some may never enter the profession to begin with. North Carolina State University officials said the number of students enrolling in teacher education dropped 17 percent this fall.



418 Comments

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  • Plenty Coups Aug 30, 2013

    "Part of what drives the average up is the much higher pay of teachers in areas that are a lot more expensive to live in...."

    And part of what drives teacher pay average down is the lesser pay of teachers in areas that are cheaper to live in. Central and western NY for example, is cheaper to live in than the Triangle area.

  • Plenty Coups Aug 30, 2013

    "I'll be leaving at the end of the year. I'm a teacher of the year in my county. I'll finish my master's degree in science and, with a heavy heart, head north"

    Sadly, you're not the only one. My school has had over 50% turnover this year and last year. The teachers are fed up.

  • Plenty Coups Aug 30, 2013

    lweaton-"This entire discussion is bogus:
    http://lockerroom.johnlocke.org/2013/08/29/wral-on-teacher-turnover/"

    Your first mistake is believing anything the Art Pope financed John Locke Foundation says. All they want to do is mislead as part of their anti-tax plan. Terry Stoops gets paid to try and imply that teachers are well paid and happy. It's absolutely ridiculous. Why is he wrong? First of all, the data is from the 2011-2012 year. Way before the General Assembly chose to end Masters pay, end tenure, and keep pay frozen for yet another year. Second of all, the rate of teachers leaving increased from 2010-2011. Third of all, teachers don't get asked if pay factors into their decision to leave but it does.

    "There aren't anymore teachers leaving than there usually are."

    Wrong. Somehow you must know something that the school leaders don't, huh? We're talking about the 2012-2103 session. Not 2 years ago.

  • GretchenB Aug 30, 2013

    I'll be leaving at the end of the year. I'm a teacher of the year in my county. I'll finish my master's degree in science and, with a heavy heart, head north. I'm a single Mom and I need to know that my future includes being able to put oil in my furnace and buy my kids shoes.

  • Objective Scientist Aug 30, 2013

    "Teachers have a great gig.

    They are part time employees who work 9 months a year and get paid for 12 months a year along with having all of the benefits of a full time employee including a state paid pension when they retire.

    Shame most of us can't get such a sweet deal at the expense of the taxpayers." - a recent post/comment.

    Those statements could only - ONLY - come from complete and utter IGNORANCE of teaching. EVERYTHING in those statements is INCORRECT and demonstrates a complete lack of knowledge and understanding of teaching!

  • ConservativeVoter Aug 30, 2013

    Teachers have a great gig.

    They are part time employees who work 9 months a year and get paid for 12 months a year along with having all of the benefits of a full time employee including a state paid pension when they retire.

    Shame most of us can't get such a sweet deal at the expense of the taxpayers.

  • btneast Aug 30, 2013

    Ummm, that's the national average, not what California or New York pays, which is much higher...

    Really! No kidding......I know it is a national average......my point is to reflect the pay of teachers in buying power, not gross dollars. Part of what drives the average up is the much higher pay of teachers in areas that are a lot more expensive to live in.....so their relative buying power may be no more than a teacher with less pay from a cheaper area to live in. If ALL of the teachers figured into this "average" all lived in the same area, THEN it would be accurate .

  • lweaton Aug 30, 2013

    This entire discussion is bogus:

    http://lockerroom.johnlocke.org/2013/08/29/wral-on-teacher-turnover/

    There aren't anymore teachers leaving than there usually are.

    It's just that the WRAL, in an effort to stir the pot, found a few people who are not content; as if that doesn't happen in every job situation.

    People are getting tired of teachers acting like they are the only ones with hard, responsible jobs.

  • Objective Scientist Aug 30, 2013

    What is there to be learned from the recent numerous articles about teaching/teachers and comments posted about them? One is that there is a group of people who appear to have absolutely NO respect for teachers, who believe that becoming a teacher is no better than graduating from a program in "cake decorating", and are "just fine" with being almost at the bottom in the USA in teacher pay/benefits and in spending on education in general, and that seem to literally HATE teachers! From where does all that vile and venom come??? Is it from those who struggled in school? Is it from those who had a truly bad experience from one or more teachers as a student in their classrooms? From where does all that "trashing" of teachers come??? What are the reasons behind it??? Certainly the comments posted in this forum do not even come close to a "scientific, representative sample" of how NC folks feel about education/teachers, etc. I can only hope the majority feel differently!!!

  • goldenosprey Aug 30, 2013

    Conservative voter, there was a time when the best and brightest, particularly among women, were the teachers. Teacher pay has fallen behind what similarly educated workers have in the private sector.

    While you praise the wonders of the "private sector" where everyone has less job security than an NBA coach, you neglect that most private sector employees with a college degree don't have to work off the clock or buy supplies for other people with their own money. They actually get paid something close to what they are worth (most of the time).

    Teachers know they won't get rich performing a job that enriches society, instead of shareholders. That doesn't mean they'll stick around when we treat them like something stuck to our shoe.

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