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CMS teacher turnover hits 10-year high as departures rise statewide

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  • 2013 teacher turnover

    Percent of teachers who left between March 2012 and March 2013, along with the five-year average turnover. Rates are listed for Charlotte-area districts and Wake and Guilford counties, the only N.C. districts of comparable size to CMS.

    District 2013 turnover 5-year average
    Lincoln9.8%9.11%
    Catawba11.35%10.09%
    Kannapolis11.75%10.81%
    Wake12.1%11.34%
    Mooresville12.31%10.53%
    Iredell12.68%10.37%
    Guilford12.9%11.58%
    Cabarrus13%10.02%
    Gaston13.55%10.7%
    Union14.35%12.49%
    CMS15.99%13.87%
    Hickory17%13.27%
    Newton-Conover19.1%12.3%

    Source: N.C. Department of Public Instruction



Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools lost almost 16 percent of its teachers last year, a 10-year high, a state teacher turnover report shows.

Turnover rose statewide, according to the report released this week. CMS’ 2012-13 rate of 15.99 percent topped the state average of 14.33 percent. CMS lost a larger percentage of its teachers than surrounding counties and the other largest North Carolina districts, hitting a level not seen since 2002-03.

Educators, lawmakers and advocates across North Carolina have raised concerns that stagnant pay and changes to the state pay structure could lead to the loss of good teachers. The state has slipped to 46th in the nation on average teacher pay, according to tallies by the National Education Association. Republican legislators say they plan to find a way to raise pay in the 2014 session, though they haven’t agreed on how to do it.

“We definitely need to show our educators that we appreciate them,” said Rep. Bryan Holloway, a Republican House budget writer. “I know they feel beaten up and that they are not appreciated.”

The need to increase teacher pay also figured prominently in the state Board of Education’s talks Wednesday, when members got the turnover report. “There’s unity in wanting to pay teachers more and pay them more as soon as possible,” said state board Chairman Bill Cobey. “It’s figuring out how to do it.”

The new report shows a statewide increase in public school teachers leaving the profession or quitting to teach in private schools or other states. But those numbers remain small compared with the number who switched jobs or school districts while continuing to work for North Carolina public schools.

If there’s good news for teachers, it’s that layoffs and dismissals are down statewide. Both peaked in 2009-10, when budget cuts walloped districts across North Carolina.

The recession also helped curb teacher turnover because fewer jobs were available for people who might want to leave, education officials said at the time. Turnover hit a low of 11.67 percent in CMS and 11.1 percent statewide in 2009-10. It has been slowly climbing since then. During that stretch, teachers got only one raise, of 1.2 percent.

Bigger losses ahead?

Charles Smith, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators, speculated that 2013-14 numbers will look worse. The state reports track teachers who leave between March of one year and the next. That means the 2012-13 report doesn’t reflect any resignations that came after last summer’s controversial decisions to end career status, also known as tenure, and to eliminate extra pay for master’s degrees.

Smith, a CMS high school teacher, said he heard the district lost hundreds of teachers in the aftermath of the legislative session.

“It’s sad to see that many teachers leaving,” he said. “I’m laying it off on the General Assembly.”

CMS has long struggled with above-average turnover rates. In 2000-01, the district reported losing almost 22 percent of its teachers. Turnover began to decline, and had been lower than 15 percent since 2007-08.

Small districts traditionally log the highest and the lowest turnover rates, in part because relatively small changes in the number of departures cause bigger year-to-year fluctuations.

In 2012-13 eight districts, all with fewer than 1,000 teachers, had turnover rates higher than 25 percent. Northampton County on the Virginia state line lost 60 of its 171 teachers for a rate just over 35 percent, the state’s highest.

In the Charlotte region, only small city districts serving Newton-Conover and Hickory had higher turnover than CMS in 2012-13, at 19.1 percent and 17 percent, respectively. But CMS had a higher five-year average.

Wake County, the state’s largest district, saw 12.1 percent of its 9,670 teachers leave. CMS, the second largest, lost 15.99 percent of its 8,309 teachers. Guilford County, which is third, lost 12.9 percent of its 4,960 teachers.

Some medium-sized districts, such as Cumberland (17.08 percent) and Durham (20.16 percent), had higher turnover than CMS.

CMS issues

Judy Kidd, president of the Charlotte-based Classroom Teachers Association, said CMS creates additional pressure on teachers by overemphasizing data. Many principals are urging or forcing teachers to avoid giving students failing grades in an attempt to keep those students on track to be promoted and graduate, she said.

“In CMS, the data has become the tail that wags the dog,” Kidd said.

Smith said he has also heard reports of teachers being pressured not to give failing grades. He said he believes former CMS Superintendent Peter Gorman, who left in 2011, created an anti-teacher culture. Superintendent Heath Morrison, hired in 2012, is trying to change that, so far with limited results, Smith said.

“It appears that Dr. Morrison does have teachers’ interests at heart, but to an extent his hands are tied by the legislature,” he said.

CMS Human Resources Chief Terry Cockerham did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Tim Morgan, vice chairman of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board, said decisions about pay, tenure and teacher evaluations are in the hands of state officials, but CMS leaders can help keep teachers by demonstrating support and making sure they put good principals in place.

Why they left

The turnover tally shows that CMS lost 1,329 teachers between March 2012 and March 2013. A little more than 500 of them left for reasons considered beyond control, such as retirement, family relocation or resignations because of family responsibilities.

CMS lost 368 teachers to other districts, charter schools or nonteaching positions in education, the report shows. An additional 375 were classified as personal or other reasons, a category that includes dissatisfaction with teaching, career changes, early retirement and leaving to teach in other states or North Carolina private schools. CMS initiated the departure of 82 teachers, or a little more than 6 percent of the workforce, through dismissals, forced resignations and contracts that weren’t renewed.

State numbers reflected similar proportions.

Charter schools, which are proliferating in North Carolina, played a small but growing role in recruiting teachers from school districts. Statewide, school districts reported losing 145 teachers to charter schools, almost matching the total from the previous three years combined. Charter schools are alternative public schools that report to independent boards.

John Frank and Lynn Bonner of The (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.

Helms: 704-358-5033; Twitter: @anndosshelms
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