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Schools face hiring challenges; share struggles with county commissioners
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Schools face hiring challenges; share struggles with county commissioners

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Catawba County’s three school districts are struggling to fill teacher positions. Each district is putting an emphasis on hiring to combat the issue.

Recruiting and keeping good teachers and staff is a struggle facing school districts everywhere, said Catawba County Schools Superintendent Matt Stover.

“This is not only in our county but across the state,” he said. “It’s taking more and more to get high-quality folks.”

The district is making hiring and retaining its main focus in the 2021-22 fiscal year, which begins July 1, Stover said during the Catawba County Board of Commissioners’ budget meeting on Thursday.

Representatives from Newton-Conover City Schools and Hickory Public Schools spoke before the board, as well. Each district is facing the hiring difficulties in different ways.

Catawba County Schools put new pay in place for every position in the school system in an effort to be more competitive with other districts, Stover said. The new pay scale increased salaries from 2% to as much as 8% depending on the position. Some of the larger increases were because the salaries lagged behind, Stover said.

Hickory Public Schools has tried increasing teacher pay as well as offering a signing bonus for math and science teachers, said Finance Officer Adam Steele.

“Finding a math and science teacher is tough,” Steele said. “The incentive is going well. Does it keep the person here? Not all the time. But it does get our teachers here.”

Newton-Conover City Schools found some success in decreasing teacher turnover by bringing in teachers from overseas, Superintendent Aron Gabriel said.

The school district brought teachers to North Newton Elementary School through an international teaching program. Newton-Conover pays a company a fee to bring the teachers in, and the company pays benefits for the teachers, so the cost is equal to a typical hire, Gabriel said.

“We’re finding having international teachers come in and work has been amazing,” he said. “There’s a little more built-in loyalty.”

With the program in place, the school has seen a decrease in turnover, along with benefits to students in having bilingual teachers with diverse backgrounds.

The school district plans to extend the program to other schools, including the middle and high school.

The school districts are also putting a focus on learning loss and technology.

In the current proposed county budget, each district would get $1,828 per pupil from the county.

Catawba County Schools is currently allocated $28.9 million in per-pupil funding from the county. Hickory Public Schools is at $7.3 million, and Newton-Conover City Schools is set at $5.3 million.

For physical improvements to schools, Catawba County Schools is expected to receive $4.8 million under the current recommended budget as well as $19.5 million for the new Maiden Elementary School. Hickory Public Schools would get $1.58 million for smaller projects and $4 million for elementary school improvements. Newton-Conover City Schools would receive $830,748 and another $18 million for improvements to Newton-Conover High School.

Education funding accounts for about 38% of Catawba County’s expenses.

The county board of commissioners will hold a public hearing on the budget on June 15. The board is scheduled to adopt a budget on June 21.

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