Teacher vacancies have reached crisis levels in North Carolina, according to members of the North Carolina State Board of Education. Chatham County Schools is also feeling the effects of those openings as it prepares for the new school year.
According to CCS Superintendent Dr. Anthony Jackson, the district currently has nearly 60 teacher vacancies. He’s not overly concerned, though, about the impact on school operations.
“In nearly every year of my career, we have never had a full staff at the beginning of the year,” he told the News + Record.
The district has implemented a recruitment initiative called 4Rs: recruit, recognize, retain and reward. The initiative provides all employees who remain in the district from last year a retention bonus in the amount of $3,750, to be paid in September. It also includes recruitment signing bonuses for new permanent employees — a $3,500 bonus for licensed staff and a $1,500 bonus for classified staff.
In addition, the plan includes an employee referral incentive program. Current employees who recruit candidates to the district are eligible for bonuses once the recruited employees are hired: $1,000 for teacher referrals, $300 for instructional assistant referrals and $250 for other staff level positions. The pool for the referral program is capped at $75,000.
Jackson said those programs have been helpful for the district, with 29 employees hired so far through referrals.
The superintendent also applauded the district’s efforts given its ability to recruit amid wealthier surrounding districts. Jaime Detzi, executive director of the Chatham Education Foundation, agreed.
She pointed to neighboring districts with signing bonuses of up to $10,000 for in-need positions in districts like Guilford and Alamance-Burlington or recruitment bonuses of $4,000 to $5,500 in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.
While these local incentives can be helpful, none of them get at the root cause of the problem of teacher vacancies, which begins at a state level.
Performance pay proposal
A recent proposal from the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC) aims to fill teacher vacancies by restructuring the way teachers are paid in North Carolina.
Rather than paying teachers based on their career longevity, the proposal aims to pay teachers based on performance evaluations from student feedback, principals and other administrators. It would also compensate teachers for taking on additional duties such as mentoring, leadership or administrative roles.
State Superintendent Catherine Truitt and State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis have been vocal advocates of the plan, despite strong pushback from statewide teachers’ associations.
“Teacher vacancies are soaring in schools across our state while enrollment in our colleges of education has fallen over the last few years,” Davis said in a joint statement with Truitt last Thursday. “In short, our state is in a teaching crisis that’s having a significant negative impact on today’s students and if not corrected will damage our state for generations to come.”
Currently, the state base salary for teachers is $37,000 with annual raises for the first 15 years. The compensation is then supplemented through district bonuses. In Chatham County Schools, teachers are supplemented based on their experience and licensure, with starting salaries beginning at around $41,500.
Davis argues the current model is preventing effective teachers from staying in the classroom because they aren’t being adequately paid. He said changing the model is essential to providing students with a sound basic education.
Under the new model, there would be seven levels ranging from $30,000 for aspiring teachers who haven’t yet received a bachelor’s degree up to the highest level, where the proposed minimum salary is $73,000. The average starting base salary for new teachers would be $45,000.
Increasing teacher salaries beyond the new base of $45,000 require an “expert teaching” license that comes with both higher pay and higher responsibilities. Expert teachers would get a proposed salary of $56,000, with a $5,000 raise whenever they successfully renew their license every five years.
Teacher bonuses would also be determined based on whether the teacher is considered “effective”, rather than their experience in the profession.
PEPSC plans to present a final model in September to the state board for its approval later this year. It would be up to state lawmakers whether to fund the plan.
Pushback to the proposal
While the proposal isn’t finalized, it has received strong negative feedback from the North Carolina Association of Educators and other teacher groups who say the process has lacked transparency.
Critics say guidelines about determining effectiveness have been unclear. Truitt has said the system is not “merit-pay” because it doesn’t utilize student test scores to determine the level of pay. Instead, pay would be determined through evaluations with administrators.
Truitt also said the model does not revoke licensure for existing teachers. Teachers would have two five-year licensure renewal cycles to show they’ve been effective for three years.
Local education advocates expressed concerns about the plan. Detzi said while it is clear teachers need to be better paid to keep them in the profession longer, she believes some of the mechanisms in this proposal will lead to unfair results.
“For teachers licensure, we believe that research shows that having a well-qualified teacher directly correlates to student success,” Detzi said. “We do not believe the answer to the teacher shortage lies in decreasing the qualifications for teachers, but in increasing the support of teacher development, teacher morale and the public understanding on the importance of the teaching profession.”
Detzi said she believes the teacher shortage wasn’t caused by an individual policy decision, but rather by years of underfunding of public education at the state level. She said the reason we’re witnessing the shortage now is not solely because of COVID-19, but rather because of decades of poor policy and lack of support for teachers.
“We do not have a teacher shortage, there are plenty of well-trained teachers still out there,” she said. “But they are unwilling to work in an environment with low pay, low appreciation, constant parent complaints, struggling with curriculum development that has become politicized and working in an environment with kids struggling with mental health and not enough school and community resources to support their basic needs.”
The director said Chatham Education Foundation continues to advocate for increasing teacher pay and supporting the advancement of teachers through improved professional development. She said she believes one major way to do that would be by fully funding the Leandro Plan, a $5.8 billion investment for K-12 funding over the next eight years.
Edward Walgate, the president of the Chatham County Association of Educators and a science teacher at Northwood High School, echoed Detzi’s concerns about the performance pay proposal.
“We are seeing a record number of teachers leaving the profession,” he said. “Regardless of what the state says, this is merit pay, plain and simple. Teachers will end up competing for a small sliver of higher-paid positions. It’s a radical change to how teachers have always been paid.”
Walgate said he believes the proposal will lead to competition between teachers in one of the few environments of our society where competition isn’t supposed to happen. Schools, he said, are supposed to have a collaborative process, for all stakeholders.
“It looks great on paper to say you’re going to pay teachers $70,000 for an expert teacher,” Walgate said. “But there’s only going to be a small handful of those.”
The other consequence of this plan, according to Walgate, may be an increased burden on district officials. He said the plan to continually assess the effectiveness of staff takes time and resources away from an office that is already stretched thin. Walgate believes experience matters in teaching, and this plan clearly advocates for effectiveness over longevity.
“For the past decade or so, the legislature hasn’t placed value on experienced educators,” he said. “They haven’t valued middle-year teachers. There have been increases for beginning teachers, which is good, but very little for teachers with 10-15 years of experience, which is part of why we are seeing record highs in early retirements and resignations.”
The CCAE president said the pay model is due for an overhaul, and pay is certainly part of why potential teachers are choosing other careers. But doing so through what he believes is a merit-pay model is not the proper way to fix the broken system.
“We know that things like student surveys and even principal evaluations don’t actually show teacher effectiveness,” Walgate said. “Administrators are subjective and the reality is sometimes teachers have adverse relationships with them … we’re trying to quantify a really qualitative job of teaching.”
Walgate also says there’s more to the vacancies than just pay. He said federal and state politicians have disrespected teachers for the past decade and started false culture wars in the classroom, which create panic over public education.
PEPSC said its subcommittees will work with staff from the Department of Public Instruction to finalize the plan and anticipate its completion by the end of the summer. To submit feedback, questions or concerns about the licensure and compensation plan, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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