In a visit to Southern School of Energy and Sustainability this week, Gov. Roy Cooper said raising teachers’ salaries is an urgent need the state’s economy depends upon.
“We’ve got to do better on teacher pay,” Cooper said Thursday after meeting with students, teachers and local officials. “We’ve got about 5,500 empty teacher slots across our state.”
The starting salary for North Carolina teachers, not counting local supplemental pay, is $37,000, topping out at $54,000, according to the state salary schedule.
- In his budget proposal, Cooper called for 18% raises on average over the next two years and a base salary of $46,000.
- The House Republicans’ budget proposes a more modest 10% raise over two years.
- The Republican plan passed the House last week and is being considered by the Senate.
With a veto-proof Republican supermajority in the state legislature locked up with Rep. Tricia Cotham’s party switch last week, the Democratic governor is recruiting Triangle CEOs to help make the case.
“We are pulling together business leaders who are coming over to the legislature to say there has to be a significant investment in education right now,” Cooper said. “This year, we have the money to invest.”
Superintendent Pascal Mubenga is asking the county to support a 4.25% raise for teachers. The county supplements the state’s base pay on a sliding scale, meaning salaries currently start at $43,450 in Durham.
Mubenga said they used to be able to recruit in the Northeast, but the pay is no longer competitive. He said local universities can’t fill the growing vacancies, so they’re getting getting creative.
“We were able to recruit 24 (teachers) for next year from Jamaica, and we have a team that’s going next week to Honduras. We’re going to recruit there as well. So we’re doing everything possible to make sure that we don’t have any vacancies next year,” Mubenga said.
It’s Cooper’s second visit with Durham public schoolchildren this school year.
“This means the world today,” Southern principal Jerome Leathers said. “Our kids, all we want them to have is an opportunity. We want them to be exposed to the different aspects of careers and the world outside of the school building.”
Laptop problems? Students can fix that
Cooper met with the school’s student-run IT help desk during his visit.
The state pioneered so-called “tech teams” during COVID-19 lockdowns as districts rushed to get every student a personal computer for virtual learning.
More devices meant more troubleshooting and repairs.
Much of the work is handled by professionals, but using federal COVID-19 relief money, Durham Public Schools and a handful of other districts put students to work on tech teams.
“(The teams are) helping students and teachers reset their passwords, troubleshoot device issues, collecting devices that need to be sent off site for repair, getting them back to them,” said Joy Malone, the school district’s IT director.
There are tech teams at Southern, Riverside and Jordan high schools.
“We use them all the time,” Leathers said.
Malone also heads up a summer internship program — currently accepting applications — where students get more hands-on experience with cybersecurity, networking and repairs.
There are now tech teams in 24 school districts across the state, according to Caroline Sullivan, executive director of the North Carolina Business Committee for Education, the governor’s office that administers the program.
At the start of the year, the state awarded a $1.4 million grant to expand the tech team program and pay the summer interns $15 an hour. During the school year, they get course credit.
“We need all kinds of folks in tech,” Cooper told a group of students assembled in a classroom Thursday morning. “There are great jobs out there. Really, really great jobs to make money and have a great career.”
Malone, who spent 16 years in corporate IT before taking this job, said that’s why she does it.
“A lot of times when I was in corporate America, I was the only female and sometimes the only African American that was sitting at the table,” she said.
‘Don’t forget about your state’
The governor also visited the classroom of Laquanta Ford, a former tech specialist at Apple who is in her first year teaching computer science.
“You coming out of the private sector to do this really matters,” Cooper told her. “You’ve got experience and know what it’s like.”
Durham politicians from the state Senate, Board of Education, City Council and Board of County Commissioners joined the governor’s staff in peering over student’s shoulders as they programmed in Python.
“I’m really excited about our future for the kids, setting them up for whether it be career or college,” Ford said.
Mubenga seconded her enthusiasm.
“Most of our students are minority, 80%,” Mubenga said. “We want to make sure that they have access to all these great jobs.”
As the crowd streamed into the red locker-lined hallway to finish the tour, Secretary James Weaver, who leads the Department of Information Technology, hung back.
“If you’re coming from her program and looking for what’s next, don’t forget about your state. We could really use your help,” he said.