In another bid to improve teacher recruitment and retention, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools officials are looking at ways to increase salary supplements for classroom teachers.

For years, individual school districts have paid teachers a salary supplement on top of the base pay set by the state. The supplement has been seen as a way to recruit teachers to one district over another and retain those teachers already working in a district.

While Winston-Salem City Schools was the first district in the state to offer supplements and the joint city-county school system formed 50 years ago has traditionally tried to remain competitive with other large urban districts, it has fallen behind in recent years.

Later this month the Board of Education is expected to consider a 1.5 percent supplement bump, but it will take more than that to get close to the supplements offered by Wake, Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Guilford county systems. They’re among the highest in the state.

The last increase Forsyth County teachers saw in supplements was in the 2008-09 school year, when the county had the seventh highest supplement in the state. Years of little to no increases in county appropriations meant no increases in the salary supplement.

For the 2015-16 school year, Forsyth County had slipped to 19th in the state, paying on average an $3,717 per year. The actual amount a teacher receives depends on how many years of experience they have, with veteran teachers receiving a higher supplement.

The 1.5 percent increase would only bring the district up one spot, if other school districts maintain their 2015-16 supplements schedules. Under the boosted plan, teachers would earn between $2,600 and $7,570 per year, on top of their base salary.

Compare that to minimums between $4,350 and $6037.50 in other large, urban districts and maximums for the longest-serving teachers of $5,720 to $11,625.

“Back in the day, this school system was a place of attraction,” said board member Lori Clark. “I think we can be there again.

“We need to do better for our teachers. They don’t get paid enough to do one of the hardest jobs there is in the world.”

The board had a discussion about raising supplements at a retreat last week, but budget director Kerry Crutchfield said it’s unlikely the district can do more than the modest 1.5 percent increase proposed for the upcoming school year. Crutchfield said the board could look, though, at a plan for reducing spending in other areas to pay for larger supplement increases in future years.

“That’s the best we can do for this year,” Crutchfield said.

Board member Elisabeth Motsinger questioned whether the district’s other efforts to recruit and retain teachers, like more professional development opportunities and new teacher-leader initiatives, might be more meaningful than a modest supplement increase that equates to less than $10 each month.

She also questioned whether it would be possible to do much more for teachers in the area of salary supplements without additional help from the county.

“The reason Wake has such huge supplements is they ask taxpayers to pay higher taxes,” she said. “That money has to come from somewhere and somewhere means taxes.”

Trey Ferguson said salary supplements were a huge factor when he and his wife were looking for their first teaching jobs three years ago.

An N.C. State graduate, Ferguson said they looked in the areas where both he and his wife grew up, but local salary supplements didn’t compare to what Wake County Public Schools were offering.

He ended up accepting a job teaching math at Leesville Road High School, where he did his student teaching.

“Wake County made it really easy to stay,” Ferguson said.

For veteran teachers, the supplements can be viewed differently. Because the supplements have to come from local funds — those provided by local governments through taxes — supplements can also be seen as a measure of community support, said Jim Brooks, 31-year teaching veteran with Wilkes County Schools.

Brooks said that while salary supplements weren’t something he considered when looking for his first job and are not enough to draw him away from the home he’s made in Wilkes County, they can be a way that teachers get a sense of their value in a community.”

“It’s kind of saying,‘We value the work you do; We want to go beyond how the state compensates you,’” he said.

With teacher shortages plaguing districts around the state, teachers are only going to have more power to shop around when looking for work. Matt Dixson, director of Human Resources for Forsyth County schools, said the district still has about 100 open teaching positions for the school year starting in just a few weeks.

Dixson said that while he doesn’t have statistics on areas the district might be losing teachers to, he wouldn’t be surprised if salary supplements are playing a role.

“I think it’s quite possible,” he said. “When it comes down to being so competitive, every dollar counts.”

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