Teacher pay still a factor for young graduates

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By Caitlin Cook
The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Joseph Makolandra, human resources director for Montgomery County public schools in Virginia, came to the 44th Annual Teacher Job Fair Wednesday at West Virginia State University for one reason.

"We know we can offer higher wages than what they earn here [in West Virginia]," he said. "The biggest thing we have over West Virginia is salary."

The event connected prospective teachers with job recruiters from West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina.

In Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's State of the State address in January he said he would work to make starting teachers' salaries more competitive with neighboring states. He proposed a 2 percent pay raise for all teachers and service personnel. It would be the first across-the-board pay raise for teachers in three years.

West Virginia's starting teacher salaries ranks 48th in the country, according to the WVEDA.

Under budget constraints, the West Virginia legislature amended the governor's proposal to a $1,000 pay raise for teachers, while school service employees would receive 2 percent increases.

Makolandra, who's been a recruiter for nine years, said the workforce is becoming more transient and willing to move to a new state or county. The wider they cast their recruiting net, the more hopeful they are to find good candidates, he added about recruiting in West Virginia.  

"That's changed a lot," Makolandra said. "At one time people were not willing to move."

Montgomery County's starting salary is about $37,000. Makolandra added even $3,000 annual could make a difference.

"It doesn't sound like much but $3,000 to a person coming right out of school is significant," Makolandra said. "Especially if you have student loans."

Makolandra believes even with West Virginia teacher pay raises he can offer better incentives from pay to benefits in Virginia.

Cody Sears moved to West Virginia from Lusby, Maryland to attend school at the University of Charleston. He hopes to teach either middle school or high school.

Sears interviewed with school systems in the Mountain State as well as North Carolina, Virginia and in his home state of Maryland.

"Their starting salaries are a little higher but the cost of living is higher (outside of West Virginia) as well," Sears said. "I know that being from a different state. Once you take all things into consideration it balances out to a certain extent."

He said the recent move to provide a teacher pay raise is more incentive for him to stay in West Virginia. He would like to see the raises continue.

Mingo County schools recruiter Richard Duncan said the raise leveled the playing field with neighboring states a bit.

"It's better but still not great," Duncan said. "One of the recruiters said his starting salary is around $47,000. That's still $12,000 more than what we can offer."

"No county in West Virginia offers anywhere close to that for a starting teacher with a bachelor's degree," Duncan added.

Buffalo native Garrett Burdette always wanted to teach in West Virginia, so more lucrative salaries across state lines never enticed him too much, he said. The recent pay raise does help West Virginia teachers and prospective teachers, he said.

"It makes the teaching field look more professional because we have a higher pay," Burdette said. "The pay makes us look a little more like professionals, which we are."

He hopes to land a job in Putnam County or in a district near his hometown.

Ricky Sanders, a Boone County native, also wants to stay in West Virginia for his teaching career but feels even with the pay raise teachers here are underpaid.

"Anytime you get a pay raise that's awesome," Sanders said. "But in order to keep most people in West Virginia, you need to offer higher pay."