It didn't take Richelle Sutton long after she started teaching five years ago to really grasp what everyone meant when they said the pay would be low.
Sutton, who came to Durham Public Schools right after graduating from Elizabeth City State University in 2014, didn't expect to get rich, but she was surprised to find some teachers working second and third jobs to make ends meet.
"They told us we weren't going to make a lot of money, but once I started working I began to see why teachers are working two or three jobs," she said.
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Bigger paychecks are on the way for Sutton and other early-career teachers, thanks to an approved increase in the local supplement, money on top of their state salaries. District leaders hope the increase will help retain teachers and other staffers who require state licenses.
"So, those of you have been driving (N.C.) 147, going over to the east and (N.C.) 15-501 going to the other side, you might want to stay home,"school board member Minnie Forte-Brown said, referring to Wake County Public Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.
Although the supplement bump isn't life-changing, Sutton applauded the effort.
"I definitely think it's a step in the right direction, but there's much more to do," Sutton said.
Durham school leaders say the supplement increase, which targets teachers with less than 10 years experience, will help DPS compete for top talent with neighboring school districts.
A teacher such as Sutton who has four years of experience will see her supplement grow by $798. The overall pay for such a teacher will increase from $41,963 to $44,460, when a 4 percent state pay raise is included.
DPS loses one in five teachers a year. Its turnover rate is 19.3 percent compared to 13.5 percent for North Carolina as a whole. As part of DPS' new five-year strategic plan, district leaders set a goal to reduce the turnover rate to 14.3 percent by the 2022-23 school year.
“The longer our outstanding teachers stay with us, the better our student outcomes will be,” Superintendent Pascal Mubenga said. “Our veteran teachers will continue to receive the highest local supplements. We are using our available funds to primarily target our teachers in the first 10 years of their career, where our turnover has been the highest. Now we are more competitive with our neighboring districts.”
The average local supplement for teachers in their first 10 years of experience will increase by approximately $800. Veteran teachers will continue to receive the highest local supplements. Salary supplements now range from $4,900 for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree employed for 10 months, to $14,345 for a 30-year veteran with National Board certification and a doctorate degree employed for 12 months.
Teachers with 10 years or less on the job will now receive a supplement that is 14 percent of their state salary compared to 12.5 percent last school year. And teachers in years 11-15 will see a modest supplement increase to 15 percent.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro has a 16 percent salary supplement for most teachers, so a first year teacher earning the $35,000 state minimum makes $40,600 a year. In Wake County, the supplement is 17.25 percent for teachers in years 0-2, so a first-year teacher earns $41,037.
“We have more work to do,” said Arasi Adkins, assistant superintendent for human resources. “Our board has given us more tools to keep and attract great teachers early in their careers. The next step is to support teachers across the board.”
The bump in supplements will cost DPS $1.5 million.
"This shows that we're very serious about the goals within the strategic plan," said school board Chairman Mike Lee. "We're very serious about retaining our teachers, and keeping our teachers happy."
Michelle Burton, a member of the Durham Association of Educators' Board of Directors, said DPS should strive to become the regional leader in supplemental pay, given the stiff competition it faces. "But it's going to take the school board and county commissioners working together," she said.
While an increase in pay is appreciated, Burton said working conditions also play an important role when teachers decide whether to stay or move on to another district.
"Teachers will stay at a school if they feel valued by the leadership and treated as professionals," she said. "The money helps, but that's just one piece of it."