A school district in Fort Worth, Texas, has a simple offer for Phoenix teachers.
Want to earn more money? Say goodbye to Arizona and come work in north Texas.
On Monday, the Fort Worth Independent School District began advertising on five billboards around Phoenix. The signs are blunt. "Your future is in a Fort Worth classroom," they say. The billboards list the starting teacher salary in the Fort Worth district as $52,000.
Thousands of Arizona teachers in the #RedForEd movement went on strike for better wages and school funding from April 26 to May 3. But district officials in Texas claim they're not trying to poach educators from Arizona.
"Our goal is not to steal teachers," said Clint Bond, a spokesperson for the Fort Worth Independent School District. "Our goal is to say, it’s that time of year when people start to consider, 'Is this where I want to stay? Is this where I want to continue doing my profession?'"
"And if it’s not, then Fort Worth ISD is another option for you to consider," Bond added in his Texas drawl.
The market for qualified teachers is competitive, especially in north Texas, he said. Education schools are not churning out enough teachers to meet the demand, he explained. Thus, the ad campaign.
"We have to be frank in this discussion," Bond said.
The billboards will be up for one month, he said. The ad campaign cost $10,000.
This isn't the first time the Fort Worth district has tried to woo teachers in a nearby state experiencing a teacher crisis. Before setting its sights on Phoenix, the district spent $20,000 to secure 10 billboards around Oklahoma after teachers there began agitating for increased pay and school funding.
"Right after Oklahoma got involved, Arizona teachers started to rally for the same reasons," Bond said. "We looked at the compassion and passion and dedication and commitment, and said, 'We can do the same thing in Arizona.'"
The Fort Worth Independent School District is massive: 87,000 students, 5,600 teachers, and 143 public schools. As a result, district officials are constantly hiring teachers. Bond said that because of turnover and retirements, they tend to hire between 500 to 700 teachers every year.
As it happens, their superintendent is Kent Scribner, who served as the superintendent of the Phoenix Union High School District from 2008 to 2015, at which time the Fort Worth tapped him to lead their district.
Instead of advertising around the state, as the Fort Worth district did in Oklahoma, Scribner suggested limiting the ad campaign to the Phoenix area, according to Bond. The district has received some interest from Oklahoma teachers, but so far no Phoenix teachers have applied for a job, he said.
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Arizona's median teacher pay is nearly the lowest in the nation when you factor in the cost of living. Texas falls in the middle of the pack. Before Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed a teacher pay increase into law earlier this month, teacher salaries here were battling for last place with Oklahoma.
According to the latest figures from the Morrison Institute at Arizona State University, elementary teachers earn a median annual wage of $44,990 and high school teachers earn $48,306. But because these are median figures, starting teacher salaries are often are much lower. In the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, a $50,000 salary for a first-year teacher — plus stipends for educators with extra qualifications — has become the norm.
All told, a $52,000 starting salary in Texas might look pretty good from the perspective of a cash-strapped Arizona teacher. Despite the bold ad campaign, Bond said that he believes Arizona teachers won't make a decision based on dollar signs alone.
"It’s just an attention-getter, because certainly someone wouldn’t pick up and move to Fort Worth just on that alone, I hope," Bond said.