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'Overwhelming': Huge response to fill hundreds of openings in Union County schools

Union County Public Schools officials say the district has been overwhelmed with applicants looking to fill hundreds of vacancies before the upcoming school year.

UNION COUNTY, N.C. — With only a few weeks before the new school year begins, districts in the Charlotte area are still trying to fill open positions. 

Summer is historically a tough time for school districts to recruit new staff members, but Union County Public Schools is finding success. District officials said they've been overwhelmed by the number of applicants looking for jobs. 

"We had more than 200 to register to say they're coming," Tahira Stalberte, the UCPS Spokesperson said. 

The district held a job fair Wednesday, but it wasn't just teachers it was hoping to find. Positions included transportation, school nutrition, driver's education and custodial services, according to Stalberte. 

"Till now, I've been subbing and this is really the first time I got the courage to come in here and see if I could get a full-time teaching job, which I think I can do," Doreen Green said. 

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Green is a part-time substitute teacher and is hoping to fill one of a few hundred positions across the board at UCPS. It's common for a district that size to have open positions, but the past few years have presented new problems. 

"Since COVID, it's been harder to recruit for many of our positions," Stalberte said. "There was a time when our bus driver numbers were pretty low. We're getting back on track with that."

Union County is in a tough spot because it must compete with neighboring districts, funding shortfalls and the nationwide shortage of school-related positions. Pay raises for key departments are among the efforts to attract new workers.

"We had to be competitive with our salaries and our incentives for employees," Stalberte said. "We raised our transportation rates, we raised our starting salaries for school nutrition."

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It's all to fight what some say is an uphill battle for school districts to be fully staffed this fall. Union County Public Schools says custodial services is where they need the most employees, with the district saying they need those applications in as soon as possible. 

Interested applicants can click here to view job openings with Union County Public Schools.

North Carolina teachers will see more money in their paychecks this year. The state approved an average raise of 4.2% for teachers. 

That’s around $1,000 to $2,000 more for teachers in the state. The state is the primary funding source for teacher pay. 

The National Education Association estimates North Carolina as 34th in the U.S. in average teacher pay.

"I mean, people do need to be paid," Elyse Dashew, the CMS Board chair said. 

Dashew said districts are not only battling pay it's battling morale. 

"It was a combination of just untenable expectations without enough support to get it all done," Dashew said. "The incredible pressure in the culture wars, some of which were local, some of which were more nationwide"

The recent state-approved raise won’t significantly change the state’s low-ranking pay. 

"Our teachers are not paid as well as I mean, we're losing teachers to Ohio, because they can get paid so much better in Ohio," Dashew said. "Our retirement benefits are currently some of the worst in the nation." 

The burden of supplementing the state’s base pay continues to fall on county budgets. 

That’s causing its own issues -- including public battles on how much is too much for salary increases. 

“We’re like, begging for an extra $6 million to give our teacher assistants a supplement when we've got massive vacancies in our teacher assistant pool," Dashew said. 

Mecklenburg County commissioners voted this summer to add $30 million to next year's budget request for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. That's $10 million less than the district asked for. Much of this money was slated to go to required pay raises and towards other staff. 

The competition for school staff will continue a bidding war among some districts. 

Contact Shamarria Morrison at smorrison@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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