By Kera Mashek
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- A bill is on Governor Tomblin's desk that would increase teacher pay in West Virginia by $1,000 a year, but that won't make a dent in the disparity of what teachers here earn compared to neighboring states. The state's low pay scale presents significant challenges for schools, but some districts are taking steps to help combat those challenges.
Kristi Gibb is a library media specialist at Vinson Middle School in Wayne County. Like a lot of teachers, she'll tell you she didn't get into this profession to get rich. For Gibb, this is her dream job--combining her love of education with a passion for reading.
"You don't do it for the money. You do it for the kids, for a greater purpose than just getting paid," Gibb said.
Principal Tammy Forbush agrees, but she also admits that attracting and keeping good teachers in small town West Virginia isn't easy, especially with the state's low pay.
"Being near the bottom always makes a difference. You're always going to have those that are looking outside and just to broaden their horizons, go somewhere larger, go somewhere with more money," Forbush said.
So just how bad is the disparity? Average teacher pay in West Virginia is just more than $46,000. Just minutes across the border in Kentucky the average pay is over $50,000. In Ohio, it's $58,092. The difference is even greater to the east, where states like Maryland have average teaching salaries in the $70,000 range.
The National Education Association says low pay is a big reason why it estimates half of all new teachers leave the profession within five years.
Wayne County schools realize it's a challenge, so they've put in some programs to help bring in and keep good educators. Two days a week, there are county-wide workshops to work with new teachers, helping them overcome classroom challenges while learning to love what they do.
"You're giving them the coaching support that they need to make them into better teachers, so that you're not losing people," said Forbush.
Forbush says Wayne County is blessed that a lot of students who graduate and go into teaching, come back home to lead classrooms in the district. She hopes some of her current students will follow suit and decide that despite the paycheck, teaching in West Virginia is worthwhile.
A piece of good news, even in a state with economic challenges, there are always teaching jobs, and fields like science, math and special education are especially in high demand.