RALEIGH, N.C. — In March, the state education department released the new figure – North Carolina’s average teacher pay reached $51,214 this year, the first time it has surpassed $50,000.
Media outlets, including WRAL News, reported the salary estimate. Soon after, comments came streaming in to the WRAL newsroom, disputing the number and questioning the math.
“I happen to know that even if you work 30 years in the public school system, you are not going to get $50,000,” a woman said by voicemail, noting that she believed the figure must include university professor salaries. “I want to know where you’re getting these numbers to average in public school teachers making $50-some-odd-thousand, because they DON’T!”
Another reader said he laughed with friends after reading the story.
“2 of my friends are high school teachers and both laughed hysterically at this article,” the man wrote. “and i quote my friends ’50k a year, yea right more like 25-30 per year they must have only calculated high end positions because the average teacher doesnt make half of that.'”
“This statistical analysis is skewed and must use principals and assistant principals as a basis of their statistics,” another reader said.
“talk about fake news…” another said.
North Carolina’s average teacher salary is a much-debated topic each year, especially how it compares with other states (NC is currently ranked 37th in the nation).
Also debated each year is whether teachers are appropriately compensated for their work. An estimated 15,000 teachers are expected to march and rally in downtown Raleigh on Wednesday to push lawmakers for more education funding, including higher salaries.
Republican leadership in the General Assembly say teacher salaries are on the right track and point out that teachers will get their fifth consecutive pay raise in the coming budget. House Speaker Tim Moore’s office said the estimated average teacher salary next year will be in the neighborhood of $53,400.
WRAL News wanted to find out how North Carolina’s average teacher salary is calculated and how many teachers actually make the current average – $51,214 a year – or more. Here’s what we found:
How is average teacher pay calculated?
Before diving into the salary data, it’s important to understand how North Carolina’s average teacher salary is calculated. Alexis Schauss has been in charge of determining that number since 2002. She is director of school business for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
“On this average teacher compensation number, you can certainly argue against it in certain numbers, but what I do stand by is that we calculate it consistently from year to year,” Schauss said. “So when you’re looking at the trends and the changes, it is a comparable number, at least back to 2002, because that’s when I started. We pretty much haven’t made any changes.”
Each month, the state education agency collects payroll data for every traditional public school teacher in the state. Their pay is then audited to make sure each teacher is paid according to their license and years of experience and to make sure they have the appropriate licensure.
To determine the average salary each year, Schauss uses December payroll data because “the population is fairly stable” that month. The salary data is then downloaded into a mainframe program, which calculates the average.
Since teachers are paid in a variety of ways, Schauss breaks down the compensation into 12 categories to show how the average is calculated:
Schauss says it’s important to remember that teachers’ experience levels can impact the average from year to year.
“We’re seeing a declining population with teachers that [have] 25 years and above, so that pulls down the average,” she said.
How many teachers make $51,214 or more?
So, how many traditional public school teachers in North Carolina make the average salary – $51,214 a year – or more? The state education agency wasn’t able to provide this year’s numbers – they’ll be ready after the school year ends. So WRAL News requested salary data from a handful of school districts of various sizes to see what average teacher pay looks like in their area.
When looking at salaries, it’s important to note that the state pays the majority of teachers’ salaries, but many school systems give their teachers extra money, known as supplemental pay. Of the 115 school districts in North Carolina, 111 districts pay teachers extra.
Wake County public schools pays the highest average supplement in the state – $8,649 – followed by Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools – $7,904. Four school districts don’t pay their teachers any supplement – Bertie, Clay, Graham and Swain. Supplemental pay is included in the state’s average teacher salary calculation.
Wake County Public School System
More than half of Wake County’s teachers make the state’s average teacher salary, $51,214, or more, according to November 2017 salary data the district provided to WRAL News. The data showed the following:
- Wake County public schools has 10,326 teachers.
- Wake County’s average teacher salary is $54,046. (A Wake schools spokeswoman said their research shows the actual average salary is $53,469. It’s unclear how they calculated that number.)
- 5,619 of the 10,326 teachers – 54.4 percent – make more than the state’s average teacher salary of $51,214.
The four highest-paid teachers in Wake County – all ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) teachers – each make more than $100,000 a year. The highest-paid makes $110,323. ROTC teachers’ salaries are based on what they would earn in the military, depending on their service and rank, according to Wake schools’ communications director Lisa Luten.
“We are reimbursed by the military for the difference between their military pay and the state teacher salary amount,” Luten said.
Fifteen of Wake schools’ teachers make in the low $90,000s and have 20 to 30 years of teaching experience, according to the data. The majority of teachers – more than 9,400 – make between $40,000 and $70,000 a year.
Wake County is No. 1 in the nation for National Board Certified teachers, according to Luten. Those who have the certification and advanced degrees earn more money.
Durham Public Schools
Less than half of Durham Public Schools’ teachers make the state’s average teacher salary, $51,214, or more, according to data the district provided. The data showed the following:
- Durham Public Schools has 2,447 teachers.
- Durham County’s average teacher salary is $51,520.
- 1,070 of the 2,447 teachers – 43.7 percent – make more than the state’s average teacher salary of $51,214.
A majority of Durham’s top-paid teachers have 20 to 40 years of experience, including an ROTC teacher making the top salary of $101,598 a year. As with Wake County, ROTC teachers’ salaries are based on what they would earn in the military, and the military reimburses the school system for its portion of the pay.
Cumberland County Schools
About a third of Cumberland County teachers make the state’s average teacher salary, $51,214, or more, according to data the district provided. The data showed the following:
- Cumberland County has 3,265 teachers.
- Cumberland’s average teacher salary is $47,864.
- 1,090 of the 3,265 teachers – 33.4 percent – make more than the state’s average teacher salary of $51,214.
The seven top-paid teachers in Cumberland County make $70,000 to $96,000 a year. But the majority of teachers – nearly 2,300 – make between $40,000 and $60,000 a year.
Clay County Schools
Clay County, in the far western part of the state, is one of four North Carolina school districts where teachers get no supplemental pay. A majority of their teachers do not make the state’s average teacher salary, $51,214, or more, according to data the district provided. The data showed the following:
- Clay County Schools has 103 teachers.
- Clay County’s average teacher salary is $48,147
- 36 of the 103 teachers – 35 percent – make more than the state’s average teacher salary of $51,214.
Clay County teachers who make the most money – the top salary is $76,620 – are typically 12-month teachers, veteran teachers, have advanced degrees or are National Board Certified, according to the district.
Graham County Schools
Graham County, also in the far western part of the state, is another district where teachers get no supplemental pay from their county. Like Clay County, the majority of Graham County’s teachers make less than the state’s average teacher salary, $51,214, according to data the district provided. The data showed the following:
- Graham County has 99 teachers.
- Graham’s average teacher salary is $45,610.
- 29 of the 99 teachers – 29.3 percent – make more than the state’s average teacher salary of $51,214.
Graham County’s highest-paid teacher makes $75,108 and has 28 years of experience, is National Board Certified with a Master’s degree and works 12 months a year, according to the district’s data. The next two highest-paid teachers make $62,590 a year.
A majority of Graham County’s teachers – nearly 70 teachers – make between $35,000 and $50,000 a year.
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