I recently attended the Wake County Commission budget hearing that takes place every year. In some years, only a few people show up. In other years, the event draws a substantial crowd. The number of attendees depends on that year’s issues and the interest of the citizens. This year, the room was packed with more than 100 upset teachers from Wake County – angry and feeling slighted as year after year they have gone without a pay raise.
North Carolina teachers’ pay currently lags behind South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia and Tennessee at number 47 in the country. A teacher can leave Wake County, move to South Carolina, and make $10,000 more a year in salary. Last year alone, more than 600 teachers left the Wake County area. As a previous South Carolina resident, I can assure you that those teachers would much rather live in Wake County. Recognizing that we have to hire more than 1,000 new teachers a year just to keep up with our growing population, as well as losing 600 annually, it is evident we are paddling up stream – without a paddle.
As I listened to the frustrated teachers speak for more than three hours, I was struck by two things:
- How passionate teachers are about their profession. For the most part, they love their jobs. They made an intentional choice to become teachers, are committed to the job, and wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. However, class sizes, lack of supplies and the loss of teacher assistants were just a few of the frustrations expressed at the hearing. Let us not confuse frustration with a lack of job satisfaction, these teachers are dedicated professionals and love to see their students advance. Oftentimes the best payments are received by seeing students light up understanding a new concept; excited about solving a new problem; and thrilled meeting and making a new friend.
- How much Wake County teachers are struggling financially. Teachers talked about having to work two and three jobs just to make ends meet. Their kids have qualified for free and reduced lunch at school or for food stamps. One teacher shared that she worked at Bojangles and went to school at night to get her teaching license. Although she loves teaching, she would be making twice as much working at Bojangles. She, like many others, currently works multiple jobs to make enough for her family.
We can see what we value as individuals, families or as communities by what we’re willing to invest in and pay for. In Wake County there is no shortage of nice cars and beautiful homes. Yet, somehow, values have shifted when it comes to how much we are willing to invest in our teachers. Our teachers are our future as they interact daily and offer an education to what we value most, our children. We need to start thinking about compensating our teachers in relationship to the value they bring to us and our children. By doing so, we will not only end up with a higher quality education for our kids, but we can also keep the best teachers here in Wake County. We can do better for ourselves and our children by paying teachers better, appreciating them more and giving them the resources they need to do their jobs.
Friends, this is just another example of how our values are not measuring up to the current Commission’s priorities; and how the current Wake County Commission majority are letting us down. As a Commissioner, I promise to do better for our teachers. I promise to work with the leaders throughout the school system to move from a conversation of consternation to a conversation of collaboration.
I promise that I’ll stand by you – the voter, taxpayer and citizen.
I promise that I will stand by our kids.
I promise that I will stand by our teachers.
We will return Wake County to the nationally recognized status we once enjoyed. Friends, we can do better, and as your Wake County Commissioner, we will.