Ann Clark has a challenge for Charlotte: What perk can you or your business give teachers to help recruit them to, or keep them in, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools?
Clark, the CMS superintendent, says she’s having a hard time recruiting teachers. With starting pay of $35,000, they can’t afford basic necessities like rent or day care.
“Ten years ago, when I went to national meetings, I could cast a net across this nation and recruit people,” she told the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club on Thursday. “Today when I go to national meetings, this is the question I get: ‘What in the heck is going on in North Carolina?’”
Clark and this community can do nothing better for CMS than hire and keep great teachers. But that has become increasingly difficult, especially in North Carolina, which ranked dead last in the change in teacher pay from 2003 to 2014. CMS teacher turnover hit a 12-year high last year. Teachers are leaving for other reasons in addition to low pay, but that’s a big piece of the story.
Even with recent hikes from the state, Clark says she’ll “keep pounding, to use the Panthers’ phrase, on the folks in Raleigh.” But she wants Charlotte to take matters into its own hands. Clark doesn’t have the money or the authority to pay teachers much more. But she envisions being able to offer new hires a unique benefits package, largely donated by the private sector.
She has been talking with teachers about what would make the biggest difference to them. Here are some of the pieces she has in mind:
▪ Help with rent. The county could lead an effort to build an affordable apartment complex available only to teachers, like officials are currently doing in Asheville. Or privately owned apartment complexes could waive their deposit for teachers and phase in rent payments, with teachers paying a quarter of the full rent the first year then an additional quarter until paying full rent the fourth year.
▪ Day care. Some teachers have a child and never return, realizing that the cost of day care is prohibitive. Clark envisions hundreds of houses of worship and others each offering one or two spots of free day care for teachers.
▪ Free Internet at home.
▪ Free gym memberships.
▪ Occasional free tickets to Panthers games and other sporting and cultural events.
▪ “Concierge” services, such as moving to the front of the line for doctor appointments.
“I think we have to start thinking differently about what our edge is,” Clark says.
Clark tells the story of an outstanding teacher who recently was set to leave the state because she couldn’t afford rent. Clark personally found her an apartment that would waive the deposit. “But I declare I don’t have time to do that for 1,500 teachers who come to Charlotte,” Clark said.
Clark’s plan raises questions, to be sure. (For starters, why just school employees? Why not policemen and firefighters?)
But we like her spirit. If CMS can’t recruit great teachers, that’s a problem for all of us. What can you do?