RSS talks teacher compensation, workforce issues

Published 8:10 pm Wednesday, February 2, 2022

SALISBURY — Part of Rowan-Salisbury Schools eight-hour Board of Education retreat Tuesday was dedicated talking about the future of staffing and pay in the district.

Human Resources Director Jill Hall-Freeman walked the board through some options to take the board “where it needs to be.”

Education, broadly, is having problems hiring enough staff. About 5.5% of RSS teacher positions are open, though the number changes day-to-day. Freeman said even one open position per school would place vacancies at 2%.

Freeman said schools with problems filling vacancies can use other teachers during planning periods. Some teachers have taken on “double classes” — handling twice the number of students they would normally have in a class. These options are voluntary for teachers, and they are paid extra for the work.

The shortage of teachers is broad, but Freeman said the district can look for ways to make a difference and compensate staff better.

One issue is the district’s local pay supplement, which is low when put up against comparable and more wealthy school districts. It’s largely a function of how much money the district gets from the county each year.

One option would be to align the number of staff with the state’s formulas. The state bases allotments to districts on average daily membership — how many students are attending the schools. Freeman said whether a school matches the state’s staffing formula varies within the district.

The district has 76 teacher vacancies, and money not being paid for salaries is used to pay teachers putting in extra work to make up the difference. Freeman said another option is to examine staffing and finances to see if it would be optimal to eliminate some vacant positions and translate the difference into better pay for staff.

“If we think really strategically about our allotments and make sure that we’re using the most appropriate allotment formula, then it may result in a few less positions for a particular school,” Freeman said.

Freeman said this would not mean any cuts to current staff. The vacancies are already there. One point she made to the board is hiring and retention is more difficult when pay is not competitive.

“Our goal in H.R. and finance is to optimize everything we’re doing in to order to be competitive with our compensation,” Freeman told the Post.

Freeman said poring over finances is not something that can be done in isolation, saying the school board, the commissioners and the district need to work on the issue.

Freeman also spoke to the board about the goal of pushing the percent of Hispanic and Latino faculty from 2.5% to 10%. She said the goal is ambitious, especially considering it is difficult to find teachers in general at the moment, but it the department wants to pursue the goal so staff will better reflect the student population.

Hispanic students are the fastest-growing group in RSS and are passing African-American students in total enrollment.

Clarification: Jill Hall-Freeman specified teachers being paid to give up planning periods is for teachers permanently giving up their periods to teach an additional class, not covering another teacher’s class during an absence. We apologize for any confusion.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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