Houston school district holds job fair for North Carolina teachers

05/31/2014 8:31 PM

05/31/2014 8:32 PM

Hundreds of North Carolina teachers came to Raleigh on Saturday to find out how they could make as much as $16,000 more per year if they relocate to work in the largest school system in Texas.

Recruiters from the Houston Independent School District touted benefits such as higher pay and incentives to lure away North Carolina teachers who’ve grown frustrated at being among the lowest paid in the nation. The job fair added more fuel to the heated debate over how to raise average teacher pay in North Carolina out of the spot of 47th highest in the nation.

“If they offered me a position, I would definitely accept it and move now,” said Xavier Wallace, 23, a second-grade teacher at Eno Valley Elementary School in Durham who attended the job fair at the DoubleTree Hilton Raleigh.

Wallace, a first-year teacher, would make $12,000 more in Houston than his current salary of $34,000.

Wallace was among a steady stream of men dressed in jackets and ties and women dressed in blouses and skirts who walked into the hotel. A total of 350 applicants preregistered for the job fair, according to Sheleah Reed, a spokeswoman for Houston schools. Others attended as walk-ins.

HISD says it has 375 vacancies.

Reed said that Houston, which hires 2,000 new teachers a year because of turnover and growth, is recruiting around the nation. But she said the district made North Carolina an area of focus. Houston Superintendent Terry Grier used to be in charge of Guilford County Schools.

“Our superintendent knows North Carolina,” Reed said. “He knows firsthand what North Carolina teachers are like, and we follow the industry trends.”

In newspaper and online advertisements, Houston said it was “calling all North Carolina teachers.” The ads touted starting salaries of $46,805 for teachers. Houston also pays bonuses of as much as $13,000 year to teachers based on the test scores of their students.

Under North Carolina’s current state pay scale, a starting teacher with just a bachelor’s degree gets $30,800 and would reach $47,060 after 28 years of experience. Teachers have gotten more money if they earn a master’s degree and national board certification, and if they work in a district that supplements the state’s pay.

Gov. Pat McCrory has proposed giving teachers an average 2 percent raise.

The state Senate approved a $21.2 billion budget early Saturday morning that includes an average 11 percent pay raise for teachers. It would require teachers to surrender tenure rights, called career status, to get the big raises.

“Although they (Texas) are a right-to-work state, they don’t have the issue of deciding whether to have higher pay or receive tenure,” said Beverly Jones, a special education teacher from East Chapel Hill High School who attended the job fair. “They value teachers.”

It would cost slightly more to live in Houston than Raleigh. According to CNN Money, a person making $45,000 a year in Raleigh would need to make $47,369 in Houston to have a comparable salary.

Gayle Fallon, the president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said Houston’s higher pay would offset the higher cost of living for teachers coming from North Carolina.

“It’s not an easy district to work in,” Fallon said. “It’s an inner-city district. You’ll work hard for your money.”

Across the street from the job fair, about 50 advocates for higher teacher pay held a rally. They warned that more teachers would leave North Carolina if the state didn’t act quickly. But they also blasted the Senate for making deep cuts in funding for teacher assistants and for tying the raises to giving up tenure.

“Look at Houston, Texas. They got it right, guys,” said Deborah Gerhardt, a Chapel Hill parent who spoke at the rally organized by Aim Higher North Carolina. “If you value education, you pay your teachers well; you treat them well. In North Carolina, our teachers are the best. It just breaks my heart to be watching our teachers walk in this door right now.”

But Terry Stoops, director of education studies for the John Locke Foundation, a Raleigh think tank, said he wouldn’t read too much into Saturday’s job fair. While higher pay may be a reason, he said educators may want to relocate because they have relatives in Texas or are attracted to how the Lone Star State doesn’t have a state income tax or does not use the Common Core state standards.

“I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say it’s a reflection of North Carolina,” he said. “I’d say that it’s a reflection of a big urban district in Texas trying to deal with high teacher turnover.”

Renu Khanna, a former teacher in Texas, said the main reason she attended Saturday’s job fair was because her daughter lives in Dallas. But she said it doesn’t hurt that she would get paid more than what she gets as a pre-kindergarten teacher at Collier Elementary School in Cumberland County.

“In Texas, they give teachers incentives,” she said. “In North Carolina, for five years, we haven’t received much of a raise.”

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