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New plan aims for Mecklenburg County teacher salaries

SoVaNow.com / August 06, 2014
The Mecklenburg County school division will embark on a five-year strategic plan to raise teacher salaries and improve retention rates that have suffered despite across-the-board raises two years ago.

The plan was presented by school personnel director Laura Pittard during Thursday’s meeting to consider a contract extension for Superintendent James Thornton. Pittard also presented an overview of past and present data concerning teacher retention.

“Although the Board of Supervisors gave us a salary increase two years ago for teachers, we are still gravely behind our neighbors in Region VIII,” Pittard said. Thornton added that this problem “cannot be corrected with a one-year infusion of funding. We will need a strategic approach to fix this serious retention issue.”

Pittard shared the pitfalls of having teachers leave the system: “We have invested a lot of time and money in professional development program,” which is lost when a teacher leaves the school system after garnering a few years of experience. Because each new teacher or instructor has a learning phase, longer serving teachers provide the students with “stronger and more consistent curriculum,” said Pittard.

“Over and over again teachers claim they are leaving because of the county’s lower salary scale,” Pittard explained, adding, that, combined with old and outdated facilities, younger teachers are searching elsewhere for jobs with better pay and better facilities.

Pittard assured School Board trustees that the local division is “committed to growing our own leaders.” Based upon the county’s response to an information act request from The Sun, over the past four years, 55 percent of new administrators in Mecklenburg County Public Schools were either internal promotions or local hires.

The county can improve its teacher retention ration, Pittard said, by adopting a three-part plan. First, she called for the School Board to fix the current salary scale to make it the most competitive. Second, she said her department was instituting a program to improve support and outreach to new teachers, both in school and out, helping the teachers establish roots in the community and develop a social network.

The third component calls for the Board of Supervisors to fund the construction of new facilities for both the high school and middle school levels. Pittard said modern facilities would allow Mecklenburg County to attract the best and brightest new teachers, and retain current ones.

Trustee Sandra Tanner, speaking in support of the call for more money for teacher salaries, noted that North Carolina recently passed a 7% increase in their teacher pay scale, and this increase would drive more teachers to leave Mecklenburg County for higher paying North Carolina schools.

Yet, the North Carolina Department of Education lists the salary for a teacher with 0-2 years’ experience and a Bachelor degree at $30,800. With a 7% raise, that teacher will make approximately $33,000 per year. The same teacher in Mecklenburg County currently earns $34,845, according to records on file with the Virginia Department of Education. A teacher with ten years’ experience in North Carolina will earn $38,360 after the 7% raise. The same teacher in Mecklenburg County earns $37,971 according to the pay scale shown by Pittard at the previous school board meeting.

Thornton estimated it would take five years and $3.1 million to make the Mecklenburg County teacher pay scale competitive with the salaries paid by the 11 other county school systems within Region VIII in central and southern Virginia.

Thornton said for teachers “at the beginning salary scale, we are last in the region. Seven other counties in Region VIII pay first year teachers more than Mecklenburg County pays a 10-year teacher. The community has to get involved and know the facts.”

To keep teacher salaries near the top of the region’s pay school, Thornton estimated it would take an additional $651,000 in year one, $1 million in year two, $411,000 in year three, $419,000 in year four, and $650,000 in year five.

“It took us marching down the street two years ago to get the last teacher salary increase. I was told ‘never do that again,’ that is why I am presenting a 5-year plan.”

Speaking about funding for new buildings, Thornton noted that the county has $9 million in reserve and has shown a budget surplus for the past several years. Instead of just telling the people the county lacks the funds to build new schools, Thornton called on the Board of Supervisors to open their books, show “how much money has the county received each year from Microsoft.” He concluded, “The building of prisons and courthouses is complete, he said: “How about funding a new school that was first determined to be needed by this community over 20 years ago. Our children deserve an answer.”

In other business, Crystal Crutchfield updated trustees on the new guidelines set by the Department of Education, under its “Smart Snacks” program and for the school breakfast and lunch programs. The aim of these new guidelines, Crutchfield said, is to teach, encourage and support healthy eating by students.

The new rules restrict the products the schools will sell from either the vending machines or the cafeteria during school areas, which are defined as midnight to 30 minutes after the last scheduled class, 12:00 a.m. to 4:05 p.m. Mecklenburg County Public Schools will no longer sell high calorie/low nutritional value items such as donuts, candy or soft drinks. Instead, its food offerings will be whole grain products, and those with limited or reduced calories, sugar, fat, and sodium.

Crutchfield asked the broad to approve these new guidelines at its August meeting.

In order to provide high school students and teachers with current instructional materials for English classes, Sandra Boswell recommended the school board approve the purchase of textbooks for grades 9 – 12 from Pearson Prentiss Hall that included a 6-year online digital access. Boswell said the books were chosen by the teachers, and were consistent with Superintendent James Thornton’s plan to transition to digital textbooks.

The board also approved, at Boswell’s request, for Mecklenburg County to participate in in a statewide consortium for 65 state school divisions with small numbers of English language learners. The consortium allows the schools to have better access to federal monies that “support local education reform efforts that mean certain criteria – they are promising, innovative, meet the educational needs of all students and improve student achievement for ESL learners.















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