This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.

More teachers left the Caldwell County Schools in the one-year period from March 2012 to March 2013 than in any year since 2008-09, but the district’s turnover is still lower than the state average, according to data released by the state Department of Public Instruction.

Ninety-five teachers, or 11.16 percent of the district’s total teaching staff, left in 2012-13. That’s up from 8.09 percent in 2011-12, 6.42 percent in 2010-11 and 8.77 percent in 2009-10. In 2008-09, 11.43 percent of the district’s teachers left.

The state average this year was 14.33 percent, higher than the 2011-12 rate of 12.13 percent. At the district level, turnover numbers ranged from 7.31 percent in the Surry County Schools to 35.09 percent in the Northampton County Schools.After several years without pay raises, and after controversial state budget decisions this past summer affecting education, some public-school advocates have warned that North Carolina teachers will leave the profession or move to other states. In June, state Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said that low pay could discourage teachers from continuing in the profession and discourage students from majoring in education, causing a teacher shortage.

Because the recently released data goes only through March, it would not include teacher departures prompted by the final state budget passed in July, which ended pay increases for teachers with advanced degrees, cut funding for teacher assistants and diverted funding to private-school vouchers and charter schools.

But there were rumblings of the changes to come earlier in the year. The General Assembly convened in January, and Gov. Pat McCrory released his spending plan – which called for loosened rules on charter schools and cuts to teacher assistants – in March.

Caldwell County Superintendent Steve Stone said he believes the rising teacher turnover numbers can be attributed to the General Assembly and decisions about teacher pay and education funding that go back farther than the 2013 session.

“It’s been going on for years,” Stone said. “With the new stuff coming, you’re going to see the numbers go higher and higher, but I think the trending that you see now is based on decisions long-term. This is just the latest volley in attacks on teachers and the profession.”

Twenty-two of the 95 teachers who left the Caldwell County Schools this year reported leaving for “personal or other reasons,” a category that includes retiring with reduced benefits, seeking a career change, or resigning to teach in a non-public school in North Carolina or teach in another state.

Twenty-nine left for “reasons beyond their control,” a category that includes retiring with full benefits and resigning for health reasons, family responsibilities or family relocation.

One teacher left for reasons initiated by the district.

Forty-three of the teachers who left the Caldwell County Schools, a little less than half the total, remained in education – either teaching in another North Carolina school district, teaching in a North Carolina charter school or moving to a non-teaching position in education. Stone said some of that number could be attributed to internal promotions because the district now has more instructional facilitators, a non-teaching position that involves coaching and supporting teachers in the classroom.

Some departures could be attributed to economic factors, he said, such as teachers moving away because a spouse who lost a job here finds work somewhere else.

Statewide, only 35 percent of teachers who left their school districts remained in education. The number-one reason teachers reported for leaving their districts was to teach in another North Carolina school district or charter school, with retirement as the second-most common reason, and family relocation third.

In a statement, Atkinson, the state superintendent, said she is most concerned about teachers who left to teach in other states or to pursue another career.

“Although the turnover rate was higher last year, it is reassuring to know that more than a third of the 13,616 teachers who left their districts remained in education,” she said. “The statistics that trouble me are the hundreds of educators who left their jobs in 2012-13 to teach in another state or resigned because they were dissatisfied with teaching or wanted a career change. I am concerned that if changes are not made, low pay and a lack of support will push even more educators out of North Carolina classrooms and the teaching profession.”