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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- After a five year pay freeze, most of North Carolina s Teachers of the Year plan to leave the classroom for better paying jobs in the next year or two, according to the teacher named Teacher of the Year for the state.

Darcy Grimes, a third grade teacher at Bethel Elementary School in Watauga County, acts as a formal advisor to the North Carolina Board of Education.

She made the comments after a sobering report to the board showing North Carolina has dropped from the 25th of the states to 46th in the nation in average teacher pay, ahead of only West Virginia and Mississippi in the southeast region.

Grimes told board members she would have spoken sooner in the meeting but she was fighting back tears.

I ve taught for six years, Grimes told the NC Board of Education. Out of the nine (regional teachers of the year), five teachers of the regional group don t see themselves teaching in two years or even next year cause it s hard to afford.

Fighting a budget deficit and a bitter recession, North Carolina lawmakers have declined to fund so called step pay raises for teachers for the last five years.

This is a disaster, said NC School Board member John A. Tate III of Charlotte after the board report brought audible gasps and groans from the audience of educators in Raleigh. This is unbelievable.

Larger and more affluent school districts like Charlotte Mecklenburg schools supplement state dollars to make teacher pay more competitive.

That s a sad state of affairs, said Erlene Lyde, a 30-year veteran of teaching who currently teaches chemistry at Harding University High School in Charlotte.

People like me are retiring; who's coming in behind us? And then if they're coming in behind us they won't be staying long enough to make the tremendous difference they could in children's lives.

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