Wake County Schools

Hundreds of teachers leaving Wake schools; pay cited

Posted April 17, 2014 3:47 p.m. EDT
Updated April 17, 2014 11:05 p.m. EDT

— More than 600 teachers of the almost 9,000 employed by the Wake County Public School System left their jobs between July 1, 2013, and April 9, school leaders said Thursday.

“Teachers in Wake County have been leaving their jobs mid-year at a greater rate than in years past," Assistant Superintendent Doug Thilman said. "Given the flat pay scale over the past few years, the recent legislated removal of both career status and higher pay for teachers with graduate degrees, increased teacher turnover has been expected.”

At a leisurely lunch Thursday afternoon, Melissa Taylor cited the same financial pressures as the reason she left her job at Laurel Park Elementary School. Taylor's last day was March 17.

She gave her employers a month's notice and copied her letter of resignation to the local media. It used words like "absolute disrespect" and "heartbreaking."

"We are failing our students, our teachers and our future," she wrote.

Taylor, who has a master's degree, said after 13 years in the classroom, seven of them without a raise, she could no longer make ends meet.

"The opportunity came up for something else. To take a chance of not finding something at the end of the year was too big a chance," Taylor said.

So she made the heart-breaking decision to leave the career she loved. "I was told many times that I was born to be a teacher," she said.

Her leaving and her letter resonated through the education community.

"I had many teachers, not just from my school, but other schools just write me and thank me," she said.

Taylor took a job at a software company where she is able to cover her bills, take a lunch hour and no longer has a second job.

"I worked through my lunch every day when I was teaching," she said. "It was about 20 minutes."

Still, she loved teaching and cried when she left.

Thilman pointed out that it is common for teachers to leave their jobs as the traditional school year ends, but that spike has yet to occur this year. "We typically see a spike in teacher resignations in June and July," he said. "The data we have does not yet capture that increase."

Wake County has historically had a lower-than-average rate of teacher turnover compared to other districts in the state, leaders said, but that rate, about 12 percent in 2012-13, was expected to climb in 2013-14.

Along with a news conference Thursday afternoon at Underwood GT Magnet Elementary School, Wake school leaders released a list of the reasons teachers gave for their departure.

Jacqueline Jordan, principal at Underwood, listed teachers from her school who had left the profession because of the financial pinch.

"If we're losing teachers, what's happening in other communities around the state that do not have the same level of support from the county or the beautiful facilities?" Jordan asked.

That pinch has forced Tracy and Britt Morton, both teachers, to consider other options. They are moving to Georgia for better pay.

"We have go to make changes now," said Britt Morton, a teacher at Apex High School. "We can't wait. And that's why we are having to leave."

The Wake County Board of Education has proposed a budget which would seek an additional $39 million from county commissioners to fund an across-the-board raise of 3.5 percent for teachers and staff.

Wake schools’ average teacher salary is $45,512 while the national average is $56,383, the district said.

"We are not just begging the government for more money, we are talking about a critical shortage of teachers and a lack of respect for the profession of teachers," school board vice-chairman Tom Benton said.

Taylor now uses her freedom from teaching to give voice to those still in it.

"I feel I still have a fight. I'm not done fighting," she said.