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NC’s top education leader says $35,000 is ‘good money’ for some new teachers


State Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson’s comment that $35,000 is “good money” for many young teachers is drawing complaints from some school board members who say it doesn’t reflect all the challenges educators face.

During a question-and-answer session Thursday at the N.C. School Boards Association’s policy conference in Raleigh, Johnson said that the base state starting salary of $35,000 for North Carolina teachers was “good money” and “a lot of money” for people in their mid-20s.

Graham Wilson, a spokesman for the superintendent, said Johnson was referring to 22-year-olds just out of college who work as teachers in some parts of the state.

“His context was that in many North Carolina counties, that is above the median household income,” Wilson said Friday. “In fact, there are 17 counties in North Carolina with a median household income at or below $35,000, and there are 33 counties where the median household income is below $40,000, meaning in those counties an individual teacher would be making more than many families.”

Rani Dasi, chairwoman of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board, tweeted that Johnson “commented that $30K is ‘good money for people in their 20s’ I say maybe 25 years ago. This is why voting matters!”

Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board chairwoman Rani Dasi Courtesy of Rani Dasi

Wilson and other people at the conference said Johnson mentioned $35,000 and not $30,000 in his comments.

Debbie Marsh, a school board member at the Mooresville Graded School District, was visibly shaking her head as Johnson talked about the starting salary for teachers. Marsh, a retired teacher and principal, said her son takes home $2,000 a month after taxes as a third-year teacher.

“Thirty-five thousand dollars for a professional, even as a starting salary, is not a good starting salary,” Marsh said. “I have a friend whose daughter is younger than my son who as a beautician makes over $50,000 a year.”

The median weekly salary nationally for full-time workers between the age of 20 and 24 in the last quarter of 2017 was $528 a week, or $27,456 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It increased to $724 a week, or $37,648 a year, for people between the ages of 25 and 34.

But looking only at college graduates, students majoring in other professions reported much higher starting salaries than new teachers. The average salary for an education major in the Class of 2017 was $37,046 nationally, compared to $74,183 for computer science majors, $64,530 for engineering majors and $53,259 for math and statistics majors, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

State lawmakers in recent years have worked to raise the salaries for beginning teachers. It was at $30,800 in the 2013-14 school year.

In addition to the state pay, many school districts add a local salary supplement. In Wake County, the supplement raises the starting salary for teachers to $41,037.

The $35,000 figure also doesn’t include the value of the state employee benefits package, Wilson added.

Wilson said Johnson also told the group Thursday that he is working with the General Assembly to increase the starting salary for teachers and make improvements to the teaching profession that will help attract and retain more great teachers.

Johnson, 34, earns an annual salary of $127,561.

News researcher David Raynor contributed.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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