The narrative is a familiar one: North Carolina doesn’t pay its teachers enough, so they are leaving the state in droves, for better pay and benefits elsewhere.
It’s certainly part of the campaign message of Attorney General Roy Cooper, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor.
“Our best and brightest teachers are leaving for better pay and more respect,” he said recently in announcing his run for the state’s top spot.
But is it true? Not according to state Republican party officials.
“Democrats like Roy Cooper … are once again peddling false information and statistics in an attempt to mislead North Carolinians on education and teacher pay,” wrote NCGOP Chairman Hasan Harnett.
“While they say that teachers are leaving North Carolina, the fact is that North Carolina is attracting more teachers to the state, and our teacher retention rate is at or better than the national average.”
A blog post from Logan Smith, Huffington Post, titled “North Carolina ‘Education Exodus’ Worsens as More Teachers Leave for Better Pay,” claimed that nearly 15 percent of North Carolina educators — more than 14,250 teachers across the state — left their jobs last year.
In the Carolina Journal Online, Dr. Terry Stoops claimed that there have been more teachers moving to this state than leaving over the past five years.
Between 2009 and 2014, Stoops states that 8,500 teachers from other states have gotten licenses to teach in North Carolina, while only 2,200 left jobs to teach elsewhere.
With dueling reports, what is the real story in Surry County?
Surry County Schools (SCS) ranks 15th in the state for lowest teacher turnover, behind Elkin City Schools which ranks 5th, according to a report from the Department of Public Instruction.
Sonia Dickerson, SCS director of communications, said the turnover rate is low for a multitude of reason: technology and current research-based staff development with their school system; a beginning teacher support program for the first three years; a family-type atmosphere; and professional learning communities for all teachers. Each teacher has a collaborative team for planning instruction and assessment.
Mount Airy City Schools (MACS) ranks 56th at 14.17 percent, up from 11.21 percent in the 2013-14 school year.
Mount Airy Superintendent Greg Little said he couldn’t really comment on why the city school system has seen its rate climb because to do so might be to single out individuals who have left the system, and that the small numbers mean just a few leaving for a particular reason would result in a larger percentage swing.
“Teacher-retention rates are not affecting us on a local level,” Little said of statewide issues. However, he said it is getting harder to fill positions in subjects such as math and science.
In hopes to fill the gap between what is needed and what is provided on the number of teacher positions, he said that Mount Airy City Schools attempts to “create and provide an environment for great learning opportunities, despite the negativity at the state level.”
“Only 6.8 percent of teachers voluntarily left the profession last year, which is much lower than some estimated national averages,” wrote Stoops of the statewide figures. That includes all teachers who left North Carolina jobs, not just the ones who moved to another state.
The average median salary for a K-12 teacher in the U.S. was $56,689 per year for the 2013-14 school year, according to the National Education Association.
In that same report, the NEA listed the average teach pay in North Carolina at $45,355. That ranked 47th out of 50 states; only Mississippi, Oklahoma and South Dakota had a lower average.
Recently, the North Carolina General Assembly raised beginning teacher salary fom $33,000 to $35,000 per year.
“A start in the right direction” said Little.
And, in the most recent estimates, the NEA ranked North Carolina first in salary increase for the 2014-15 year at 6.2 percent. The NEA estimated teacher pay rose to $47,783, which would rank it 41st.
If those estimates hold up, that would put this state ahead not only of three states previously listed, but also West Virginia, Missouri, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Idaho and Utah.
Reach Eva Queen at (336) 415-4739 or on Twitter @MtAiryNewsEva