Teacher turnover rates rising

Dec. 06, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

As salaries were frozen for yet another year, teacher turnover in North Carolina last year was the highest it has been in at least five years according to a recently released report. And in most local counties, teachers left at an even higher rate than the state average.

The average school district in the state saw 14.4 percent of its teachers leave between March 2012 and March 2013 — a rate which the State Board of Education, in the draft of a report to be sent to the N.C. General Assembly, calls “a significant increase” from the 2011-12 rate of 12.1 percent.

Public schools in Lee (15.3 percent), Harnett (17.9 percent) and Moore (14.5 percent) counties all registered higher turnover than the state average; Chatham County (13.3 percent) had lower-than-average turnover.

“Teachers across the state, and in Lee County, left the profession for higher paying careers in sales, personal services, and the tourism industry,” said Glenda Jones, human resources director for Lee County Schools and president of the Personnel Administrators of North Carolina.

She also said that Lee County specifically had some trouble keeping teachers because of the way salaries are structured — the state gives a base salary, and local districts are allowed to supplement that.

Both she and Lee County Schools Superintendent Andy Bryan said Lee County lost some educators to districts with higher pay.

“We have to compete against some other places, even in North Carolina, that have higher supplements than us,” Bryan said, adding that in order to combat that issue, “we really try to highlight what we think are our strengths.”

Those strengths, he said, include both the welcoming atmosphere in local schools that principals try to create, as well as the community in general. Bryan himself moved here with his wife and sons from Rockbridge County, Va. in 2006 to take over as second-in-command, and later as leader, of the district. He said he quickly fell in love with Lee County, and that he’s not alone in doing so.

“For teachers who have a family who may want to move here, I think it’s a really good place to live,” Bryan said.

In addition to the local community, there’s also statewide attitudes and realities to account for. And lately, many individual teachers, as well as organized education groups, have been outspoken in their anger with the Republican-led government in Raleigh.

Jones didn’t address politics directly, but she said the lack of raises from the state — which has stretched over periods when both Democrats and Republicans were in charge — has hurt the fight against rising turnover rates. Lee County teacher turnover rose from 11.2 percent in 2011-12 to 15.3 percent in 2012-13.

“Retention is easier when our legislators are in a position to provide salary and benefits that are comparable to surrounding states,” Jones said.

Bryan said the district always tries to keep teachers from leaving — and tries to fill vacancies with the best possible candidates — for the students’ sake.

“Of course we want to retain and attract the very best teachers, and certainly when you lose a very good teacher who has been with your system for a while, or even just a few years, it does have an effect,” he said.

Twenty vacant teaching positions in Lee County are now listed online, mostly for elementary or exceptional education jobs. There are 20 other positions also vacant, including teaching assistants and office support staff. Jones said that in spite of the low supplement Lee County can offer in trying to fill vacancies, the district does have other strengths.

“Recruiting teachers to Lee County is relatively easy because of the strong support network in place for beginning teachers,” she said. “This network includes a three-year induction program with district- and school-based mentors, administrators and peers with tremendous resources, and a business community that offers support via incentives and discounts.”

Bryan also said the relatively small size of Lee County Schools also makes for a more personable atmosphere.

“We’re doing a lot for our new teachers,” he said. “I met with a lot of them at the start of the year, and I’ve met with all our teachers in faculty meetings to seek their input and ask what we can do to make it the best for them.”