Ann Clark says Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) should not have to “steal teachers away” from rural North Carolina communities. But that’s exactly what the district plans to do, as recruiting educators nationally becomes more of a challenge for CMS.
Clark, the district’s deputy superintendent who has assumed the duties of superintendent after Heath Morrison’s abrupt departure in November, feels deeply conflicted about recruiting teachers in other counties. For years, CMS recruited a significant proportion of its teachers from outside North Carolina, often picking from the best candidates at universities and in school systems—all drawn to the good salaries, reputation for educational success, and low cost of living here.
But, Clark says, as North Carolina’s average teacher salary plunged to its current level, 46th in the nation according to the National Education Association, recruiting out-of-state candidates has become increasingly difficult. The solution lies in rural North Carolina counties, which offer qualified teachers who may be drawn to Charlotte’s amenities and quality of life.
Clark knows that if Charlotte is having trouble luring teachers—in spite of its sports teams, arts, and local teacher pay supplement—rural communities face a herculean task.
“That should trouble us all,” Clark said at a recent League of Women Voters event focused on education funding. “As a native North Carolinian, it troubles me.”
Clark said she is “deeply worried and troubled” about the state of public school funding in North Carolina going into the 2015 General Assembly session.
She also laid out concerns about the decrease in funding for K-12 education as a proportion of the state and Mecklenburg County general fund budgets. In 2002-03, she said, K-12 education made up 41 percent of the state budget. That dropped to 38 percent last fiscal year. If that proportion had stayed at 2002-03 levels, Clark argued, the state would have been able to allocate an additional $680 million for public schools.
Clark said remaining at the pre-recession proportion could have meant an additional $48 million for CMS last year.
Similarly, 37 percent of Mecklenburg County’s 2002-03 spending plan went toward CMS’ operating budget; it dropped to 32 percent in 2013-14. Clark said remaining at the pre-recession proportion could have meant an additional $48 million for CMS last year.1
“We have financial resources that we need to guard carefully,” she said.
Adding to Clark’s concern is the growth CMS has experienced in both students and in benefits costs for its employees. She said the district’s budget has grown 9.8 percent since 2009, and student enrollment increased 8.4 percent during that time.
CMS’ employee benefits costs shot up 49 percent since the 2008-09 school year, Clark said, from $135 million to $201 million last school year.
Her comments came as lawmakers prepared to begin their 2015 session, which is expected to include pleas from a long list of public education advocates seeking more money.
“It’s like children writing to Santa Claus,” said John Dornan, who led the Public School Forum of North Carolina for 25 years. “Revenue is going to be the driver of what happens this session.”
Dornan and Clark both expressed concerns about the “teacher pipeline”—the pool of would-be educators available for hire in the coming years.
… lawmakers and school administrators need to be strategic—financing programs that will boost public education and incentivize more people to choose teaching as a profession.
Clark said the way the state’s reputation is derided in some national conversations about public education “deeply saddens” her. “‘What in the heck is going on in North Carolina?’ That is the question I am asked all too often.”
That approach, Clark said, would not help to attract youngsters to the teaching profession. “We can’t bank on enough people with heart to fill the vacancies in our classrooms over the next 10 years.”
Dornan said, given limited state dollars, lawmakers and school administrators need to be strategic—financing programs that will boost public education and incentivize more people to choose teaching as a profession.
“We need to be strategic about how we invest, especially when there is little new money to invest.” Dornan said countries such as Finland and Singapore draw teachers from the top 10 percent of high school students, but that is not the case in North Carolina. Providing financial incentives, opportunities for leadership development, and public support for the profession could all help, Dornan said.
At the League of Women Voters forum, one attendee mentioned a photograph in The Charlotte Observer in which Clark held a Carolina Panthers sign at a student rally for the football team’s playoff run.
Clark said she was struck by Charlotte’s pride for the Panthers, how the community rallied around the team.
“I challenged our employees to think about what it would take to generate that kind of pride in our community for public education.”