Education

Houston thinks NC has a problem with teacher salaries

Posted May 27, 2014 7:39 p.m. EDT
Updated May 30, 2014 8:30 p.m. EDT

— The largest school district is Texas is looking to poach some teachers from North Carolina, where low teacher pay has become a growing concern among educators and state leaders.

The Houston Independent School District plans to hold a job fair Saturday at the Doubletree Brownstone Hotel on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. A newspaper classified ad promoting the event notes the district pays a $46,805 starting salary, which is about 33 percent higher than the starting salary for a Wake County teacher.

"I saw that ad, and I said, 'Wow!'" John Hayden, dean of students at Apex High School, said Tuesday.

The cost of living in Houston is also higher than Raleigh, according to figures compiled by Numbeo, a user-fed database about cities and countries worldwide. Rent and overall consumer prices are 32 percent lower in Raleigh, according to the website.

With 18 years in the Wake County Public School System, Hayden said he's not going anywhere. But he fears some of his faculty might make the move, noting that his school already has a 10 percent annual turnover rate for teachers.

"If I'm a younger person looking at that, I'm at least going to go talk to them," he said. "They're going to get some people."

The Wake County Public School System already needs to fill about 1,500 teaching positions for 2014-15, and Board of Education Chairwoman Christine Kushner said she is concerned that out-of-state districts might aggravate that need by attracting some of the area's better teachers.

"It serves as further evidence as to why we need some help with teacher salaries," Kushner said.

The school board requested an extra $39 million from Wake County for the coming year to provide a 3.5 percent raise for all teachers and school staff, but Wake County Manager Jim Hartmann didn't include any money for raises in his proposed budget. He said he wants to see how state lawmakers address the issue of teacher salaries before the county makes any financial commitment.

Gov. Pat McCrory has included an average 2 percent increase for most teachers in his 2014-15 budget proposal, and legislative leaders have vowed to make teacher pay raises a priority as they craft the upcoming budget. McCrory and lawmakers also are backing a package that would raise the starting salary of teachers in North Carolina to $35,000 within two years.

Phil Matthews, chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, said he questioned the legitimacy of the classified ad promoting the Houston job fair.

"We don't want our teachers to go anywhere else. It's odd that Houston would pick Raleigh out of any city in the U.S. Sounds a bit suspicious," Matthews said.

Houston Superintendent Terry Grier is the former superintendent of Guilford County Schools and is well-acquainted with the long-running debate over North Carolina teacher salaries, which rank 46th nationwide.

Hayden called the repeated legislative promises of higher teacher salaries "lip service" and said North Carolina will continue to lose quality teachers from its classrooms until action is taken.

"Are we seriously trying to get the best people to be in these classrooms?" he asked. "As a community, are we really doing it? We're not doing it."