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Turnover at WCS More Than Doubles Since 2012

By Jesse Wood

Oct. 2, 2014. Employment turnover for Watauga County Schools (WCS) has more than doubled since 2012, according to human resources data included in the school system’s fall newsletter.

In 2012, Watauga County Schools had 25 new hires, which grew to 54 in 2013 and 66 in 2014. Other changes, including transfers between assignments, have increased from 53 in 2012 to 87 changes in 2013 and 118 changes in 2014.

The numbers in the table show the trend over three years, not including substitutes, tutors, and coaches.
The numbers in the table show the trend over three years, not including substitutes, tutors, and coaches.

Dr. Stephen Martin, director of human resources at WCS, said these figures derive from the personnel changes that occur in the summer, from May to August, which is the typical hiring season for school systems.

Martin, in the newsletter, attributed some of the turnover to an increasing number of retirees, who are opting to retire at an earlier age than in year’s past, and employees relocating to live closer to home, relatives or to follow a spouse with a new job opportunity, such as former N.C. Teacher of the Year Darcy Grimes, who recently relocated with her spouse to Asheville.

A small percentage of the latest hires and changes have been for newly-created positions. For example, this past summer featured recruitment for three new positions: one instructional technology personnel to assist with the 1:1 implementation; a school nurse funded through at-risk funds from the state; and a school social worker funded through at-risk funds from the state.

Speaking this week, Martin also relayed that another factor for the increased turnover for the last three years is lowered morale of teachers because of “five to six years with little or no raise” from the state.

“We are reflecting a higher turnover because, quite honestly, pay is not where it needs to be,” Martin said.

He clarified that the turnover data from 2012 to 2014 doesn’t factor in to the recent raise that teachers received from the N.C. General Assembly, a raise that has been touted by GOP leaders to be anywhere from 5.5 (Gov. Pat McCrory) to 7 percent (N.C. Speaker Thom Tillis) and frustrated some teachers because they received a bump lower than both of those two figures.

In addition, Martin, who praised the Watauga County Board of Commissioners for its record-level funding for the current year, noted that school systems and teachers are seeing a decrease in funding at the state level for teacher assistants, textbook funding, technology and professional development. Martin also said that veteran teachers are not pleased with longevity pay being rolled into the base salary. Martin also noted that younger teachers, those in their first 10 years on the job, receive a higher-percentage pay increase than those on the backend of their careers. (However, GOP candidates in election races this fall, such as Tillis and N.C. Rep. Jonathan Jordan, state that education spending in the state has increased under their leadership, including $660 million under Tillis’.)

Last November, Ron Henries, a veteran educator and current member of the Watauga County Board of Education, said he heard that morale was down because teacher tenure was on its way to being abolished in the state.

“I have heard quite a bit about it from teachers, how disappointed they were, how upset they are about the whole situation,” Henries said.

As for the turnover in general the past few years, Martin noted that while the trend is “alarming” and the local school system has lost some outstanding teachers and staff, there is “good news.”

“The good news is that we’ve had great success in hiring excellent people to replace those who have left,” Martin said in the newsletter. “While we always regret losing high-quality personnel, we’ve been able to find top notch candidates to succeed them.”

With pay being equal across the state, Martin attributed local recruiting success to the quality of life in the mountains, the local supplement and the partnership with Appalachian State University, which is where, Martin estimated, 90 percent of the certified teachers at WCS graduate.

Recruiting employees to teach science, math, exceptional children and gifted-students tends to be more challenging, and Martin noted that recruitment expands into the Southeast to hire for these needs.

In the past, recruitment started about June, but this past year, the human resources department began searching in April – a proactiveness that WCS principals appreciated, Martin noted. In addition, locking up teachers before the end of the school year has helped “secure top-quality candidates” or some of the “best and brightest.”

“We’ve tried to get a leg up,” Martin said. “It’s been a good strategy.”

Correction: Grimes actually relocated to Asheville – not Wake County.