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Legislative cuts forcing teachers out of the classroom

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Cuts by the North Carolina General Assembly have forced some of the state's educators to leave the classroom all together. Cuts by the North Carolina General Assembly have forced some of the state's educators to leave the classroom all together.
RALEIGH, N.C. -

North Carolina is beginning to see and feel the effects of the sweeping changes state lawmakers made to public education over the summer.

As part of a $20.6 billion budget that Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed in July, legislators eliminated bonuses for teachers with higher degrees and extended the teacher pay freeze.

The law also directs school districts to offer their top teachers a chance to sign four-year contracts in exchange for pay raises totaling $5,000 while gradually eliminating tenure. By 2018, all teachers will work under one-, two- or four-year contracts that replace tenure rights requiring school administrators to follow a defined process when firing a teacher.

The cuts have all but been welcomed by the state's educators, forcing some to leave the classroom all together.

 "We are going down a road that I thought was already scary," said former Wake County teacher Anastasia Trueman. "I'm now at the point where I'm too frightened to continue."

Trueman -- who has a master's degree in educational technology from Johns Hopkins University -- taught in the classroom for 12 years. But a few months ago, she made one of the toughest decisions of her life.

"I got to the point where all I did when I was home was worry about money and where it was coming from," Trueman said of deciding to leave the classroom.

Now she teaches teachers part-time about the Common Core curriculum and Trueman said she makes the same amount of money she did while teaching.

"As much as I love the kids, you cannot take care of other people if you're not taking care of yourself," Trueman explained.

"Some people would say I sold out because I left, but I had to take a stand and I felt like it was the right thing to do," she said. "I just hope and pray North Carolina realizes our children are our future. What are we going to do if we don't prepare them?"

North Carolina ranks in the bottom five in the country when it comes to teacher pay. An entry level teacher will make as little as $31,000 a year -- the statewide average is about $45,000. But in neighboring states like Virginia, the average is almost $4,000 more, while South Carolina is $2,500 more

 "We're actually losing teachers who are … flocking to those other states," said Dr. Erin Horne, assistant director of professional education at North Carolina State University. "We're not going to be able to fill the classrooms that we need to fill."

The state has almost 5,000 fewer teachers than 4 years ago, but thousands more students are flooding the classrooms every year.

Durant Middle School teacher Luke Miles is one of those who decided to stay, explaining that "nobody got into teaching for money."

Miles, who is in his fifth year of teaching, was named Wake County Teacher of the Year this year for his passion and creativity. He said he is doing more with less, but it hasn't broken his will.

"Which just makes us have to work harder," Miles said. "I think when people see that, everything's going to get better."

Monetarily speaking, just how much better is up to the General Assembly, and State Superintendent Dr. June Atkinson said she's "optimistic." Still, she said it's tough to raise salaries.

"In order to give a 1 percent raise to our teachers, it takes approximately $88 million," Atkinson said. And without a raise, Atkinson is afraid the state will continue to lose teachers.

"Without a competitive salary, we will continue to lose teachers to other professions and other states," Atkinson pointed out.

In the last few years, more North Carolina teachers have resigned to move to other states to teach. Next week, Atkinson will release the latest figures showing the turnover rate in 2013.

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Eileen Park

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