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North Carolina has some of the lowest teacher salaries in the country. Teachers there sometimes struggle to pay the rent or just plain can't afford to live in the communities they serve. Jess Clark of North Carolina Public Radio has this report, and it starts in the northeastern part of the state where one rural school district is taking steps to solve the problem.
JESS CLARK, BYLINE: If you pull into Hertford County High School, pass the bus circle and the soccer fields and continue behind the school to a patch of woods, you find three cheerful two-story apartment buildings. James Eure admires them from beneath the gazebo and out of the rain.
JAMES EURE: This was owned by the school system and it was all woods, and we cleared it off and built these apartments and they're really nice.
CLARK: Eure volunteers for an organization that took out a loan to build these apartments for the school district's teachers and staff.
EURE: When we started doing a study in Hertford County, we found out that there was only about 15 apartments with the salaries that the teachers made could live in.
CLARK: Eure says he's seen the apartments draw in new teachers who make about $36,000 a year in this district and often can't afford to buy a house or don't want to rent one miles out in the country.
THOMPSONAMY THOMPSON: Hi.
EURE: Hello Amy.
CLARK: He introduces me to one of those teachers, Amy Thompson, who moved to Hertford County from Virginia.
Nice to meet you.
THOMPSON: Nice to meet you.
CLARK: Thompson is a first-year high school science teacher. She pays $625 a month for her two-bedroom unit.
THOMPSON: So this is just the living room area. I recently decorated for the fall - so (laughter).
CLARK: Thompson says the rent wasn't the only selling point.
THOMPSON: When they told me about the apartments and how close they were to work and that it was a community of people that teach here in the county who work the same hours as you, I was sold.
CLARK: Hertford is among several districts in North Carolina and across the country that's recognized the need for affordable teacher housing. Rural districts have one problem - a lack of it. But housing like this is piquing interest in other districts too for a different reason.
PAM BALDWIN: Asheville, in particular, it is an expensive place to live.
CLARK: Pam Baldwin is superintendent for Asheville City Schools in the western part of the state. Asheville and a neighboring district are working with a local charity to open teacher apartments next year.
BALDWIN: With salaries the way they are right now in North Carolina for teachers, it was important to find some sort of a way to help them with housing.
CLARK: On average, teachers in the U.S. make a little more than $57,000 a year. North Carolina ranks 42nd in teacher pay. Some worry providing teachers with housing isn't the real solution.
MARK JEWELL: It's another approach that is kind of like a Band-Aid to kind of fix a wound on a long-term problem.
CLARK: That's Mark Jewell of the North Carolina Association of Educators. He's skeptical that these apartments will keep teachers in a district.
JEWELL: Many people want have families and children and yards. That's not giving them an option of, you know, really staying long-term.
CLARK: Jewell says the state should raise teacher's salaries, both for starting and veteran teachers. Baldwin, the superintendent in Asheville, says until they do, her district has to work with what it's got. For NPR News, I'm Jess Clark.
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