Investigation: NPS teachers say pay scale is causing problems, departures

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NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Norfolk Schools are trying to solve a math problem.  A teacher pay freeze right after the great recession has created salaries that don’t add up when comparing experienced teachers with new hires.

Subtraction is also part of the equation. Experienced teachers are leaving for other school systems, and the empty staff positions are affecting morale.

The school board chair acknowledges the problem and says a plan is in place. In the meantime teachers say the exodus will continue unless they get paid more money, and more attention.

“I’m leaving Norfolk because I have compassion fatigue,” said a teacher with several years of experience with Norfolk Schools we’re calling Beth.

Beth says she can no longer bear to watch teachers leave and students suffer. She was fighting back tears as she thought about what she’s leaving behind.

“I got to get out of here. It’s hurting to see these kids.”

Norfolk Schools froze pay for three years beginning in 2009. A 2016 consultant’s report said NPS had adjusted the salary scales periodically, but both educators and staff had not received step increases for four years.

Another experienced teacher who wants to remain anonymous is staying, at least for now.  “Kim” says dozens of her colleagues have left in recent years.

“I would have to say that number is greater than 70. I’ve seen groups of people leave and get hired in the same building in Virginia Beach. That speaks volumes.”

The same teacher says resentment is rising because as the system is trying to attract outside teachers, the steps of the pay scale have gotten out of whack.

“We have teachers who have been teaching for three years that come in and get hired on step 3. But you have teachers who have been teaching for six years who are also on step 3. So how is that fair to them?”

Dr. Noelle Gabriel, Chair of the Norfolk School Board, says the system is working to solve the pay problem.

“The individuals who have come forward to bring that issue up – they’re correct. And we’re not denying that. It’s not right.

All Norfolk school employees have begun to see some pay raises, and the average for the 2018-19 school year will be a 3.3 percent increase.

Gabriel says that’s just one of several steps to retain teachers and solve the problem of pay inequity.

The system’s four-phase plan includes getting teachers on the appropriate step, a salary increase for beginning teachers, and Incentives for teachers in hard-to-staff schools, among other measures.

Gabriel says while state funding is falling, the City of Norfolk is investing more in its schools. The city is appropriating $127 million for the coming school year.

“The city has stepped up to the plate. This year has been the best year.”

But the raise and the incentives weren’t enough for Beth.

“I got really exhausted this year, because I felt my kids were being ignored.“

Beth, Kim and several other teachers told us about the increasing use of long-term substitutes in Norfolk schools. They say it hurts the quality of education over time.

Gabriel acknowledges that situation, and says the long-term substitutes will get the same kind of professional development opportunities as certified teachers, so that they can work toward full teaching credentials.

Beth will start the new school year with a new employer, Virginia Beach City Schools. We asked her if it was hard to see her students being ignored, how her leaving would help.

“It doesn’t, and that’s why I feel so guilty about leaving.  I don’t really think it’s the money. I think it’s more a feeling of value, like do you value me?”

“You had mentioned teachers may not feel valued, they may not feel satisfied,” Gabriel said in our interview.  “We have heard that as a board.”

10 On Your Side asked Kim what her plans might be by the end of the 2018-19 school year.

“I fully intend on leaving the district after this year if things don’t change. I hope they will. I don’t think they will.”

“That turnover will continue to happen until so many people leave that they have no choice but to come up with a better plan,” Beth said.

Gabriel says it will take a few more years before everyone is on the correct step of the pay scale, but the system is doing whatever it can within its budget limits.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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