Teacher pay is a topic that has dominated the education landscape in North Carolina for most of the past year. Fueled by growing dissatisfaction with the current system and only one small (1.2 percent) raise in five years, general agreement is emerging that we need to pay our teachers more. There is little agreement, however, on how a pay plan will be structured and how will it be financed. Gov. Pat McCrory recently unveiled his teacher pay proposal. The proposal included 7 percent raises for newer teachers and 2 to 4 percent raises for teachers with more experience. Conversely, the state Senate last week unveiled a plan to increase teacher pay by 11 percent for those teachers willing to forego tenure status.
While these plans offer a good starting point for the current debate, the public still largely lacks important information. How much do teachers earn? What do teachers earn relative to other education positions? These are questions that need to be answered.
To that end, our office requested a listing of all Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) employees – salaried and hourly – by position, department or school, as well as their annualized salaries (including the local salary supplement). WCPSS is the largest school district in the state. The findings are both interesting and instructive.
Employees. Total number of WCPSS employees: 18,355 (Figures are for 2013-14)
- 16,485 salaried staff
- 1,870 hourly employees
Teachers. WCPSS employs 10,053 teachers. Of that amount, 9,753 are employed full time (100 percent); 300 are employed part time.
Average Salary. Average salary for full-time WCPSS teacher: $45,991. (State average: $45,355)
- This includes the local salary supplement, but not the value of benefits like health and retirement
Teacher Pay. Chart I below graphs the distribution of WCPSS teacher pay. It is readily apparent this is no “normal distribution.”
“The Pile Up.” 38 percent of WCPSS teachers earn between $35,000 and $39,999. When local salary supplements are included, starting teachers earn about $35,000 a year. Because teachers have received only one raise and no step increases in the last five years, the percentage of teachers earning starting or close-to starting pay has mushroomed.
Higher Pay. Not all teachers are poor. Though 38 percent earn between $35K and $40K, another 32 percent earn $50K or more; and 9 percent of WCPSS teachers earn $60K and above. Clearly WCPSS teacher pay is far from uniform. Longevity and pay supplements for advanced degrees (10 percent) and National Board Professional Teaching Standards Certification (12 percent) are two of the most common ways to boost their pay.
Teacher Pay vs. WCPSS Employees. Approximately 60percent of WCPSS salaried employees are teachers. Relative to other selected WCPSS positions, average teacher pay ranks slightly below the middle of the pack.
|Chart II: Salary for Selected WCPSS Staff Positions and Number Employed|
|Occupations||Ave. Annual Salary 2013-2014||Number Employed|
|Career Development Coordinator||$53,977||35|
|Area Facilitator Mgr.||$49,730||25|
|Bus Operations Team Leader||$35,596||32|
|Lead School Secretary||$35,053||167|
|School Secretary H.S.||$24,975||19|
|Middle School Receptionist||$23,439||32|
Instructional and Administrative Staff. Forty percent of WCPSS employees are either instructional, support or administrative staff. The highest paid WCPSS are administrators or administrative staff. A fair number of support staffers (i.e., career development specialists, social workers and media specialists) also have higher salaries than teachers. WCPSS has 174 staff who earn $90,000 or above. 
Lessons. Teacher pay is tied to longevity as well as advanced degrees or certifications. However, if you want to significantly improve your income, become an administrator. In order to keep our best teachers in the classroom, there must be other avenues that boost income and reward excellence. The ideas behind McCrory’s Career Pathways Initiative are a good place to start, and the Senate’s effort to move away from tenure status that protects poor teachers is laudable.
Conclusion. Any discussion on teacher pay needs hard data on what teachers earn and their pay relative to other educational staff. The issue of teacher pay can look very different after reviewing these facts. Data show 38 percent of teachers earn between $35,000 and $39,999. Another 32 percent of teachers earn $50K or above. These realities argue for targeting a response to the teachers most in need. The data also suggest that the way to additional income for most teachers is through getting an administrative post. Some teachers can continue to earn a good living with a salary that is supplemented by differential pay for advanced degrees or certifications. Clearly if we value teachers and teaching, North Carolina should develop a pay system that is tied to student performance, rewards good teaching, allows schools to get underperforming teachers out of the classroom, is relevant to local labor markets and — last but no least — is locally administered. If we adopt these conditions as our framework, North Carolina will have a teacher pay plan that will attract and retain high quality teachers and encourage student achievement. Let’s get started!
 See Highlights of North Carolina Public School Budget, February 2014, published by Information Analysis Division of School Business, NC Department of Public Instruction, p. 16. Available online at: http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/fbs/resources/data/highlights/2014highlights.pdf
 The 174 staff who earn $90,000 or above is a corrected figure. An earlier version of this paper erroneously reported the figure to be 1,776. Civitas apologizes for the mistake.