School districts across the state say they have somewhat fewer teacher vacancies going into this school year than they did in 2015. But many students will still have substitutes for the first weeks of school.
Johnston County Schools had 59 vacancies on Friday, down from 69 at this time last year.
The district is faring a little better than last year due to more aggressive recruiting, according to Johnston schools' Human Resources Director Brian Vetrano.
"We've spent more time and money in recruiting," he said. "In addition to attending, I think, every university job fair in the state, we traveled out of state as well," he added, saying Johnston sent representatives to states as far away as New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Vetrano said like many North Carolina districts, Johnston is suffering from a slowdown in the teacher pipeline.
"Even today if the state were to increase teacher salaries above and beyond what they already have, we're still faced with not having a sufficient number of college graduates in those areas," he said.
Enrollment in UNC schools of education has dropped 30 percent since 2010. The downward trend is playing out in other states as well.
In addition, Vetrano said Johnston and other small, rural districts have it harder than large urban districts like Wake County, because they can't offer competitive local salary supplements. Most school districts pay teachers a local salary supplement on top of the base salary paid by the state. Those range from a few hundred dollars, to thousands, depending on the size and wealth of the district.
"When you have individuals who may live in the western part of our county, and they can travel five more minutes and increase their salary substantially, it's hard," he said.
Johnston's supplement ranges from about 8 percent of the base salary for beginning teachers to about 11 percent for the most experienced teachers. In neighboring Wake County, the range is from about 17 to 23 percent.
Vetrano said increasing the base salary would help small districts like Johnston with recruiting. He welcomed recent increases in teacher pay.
"It's great," he said. "But if states around us are continuously increasing their salary, then when it's all said and done, we still don't have an advantage over them."
The North Carolina Public School Forum estimates the newest salary increases would move North Carolina's average teacher salary from ninth to seventh out of the 12 states in the Southeast.
Wake County, which employs around 10,000 teachers, has about 100 positions open. Wake district officials say they believe they're in a good hiring position this year.
Cumberland County and Durham Public Schools both saw substantial drops in the number of teacher vacancies compared to this time last year.
Durham Public Schools had 42 vacancies on Friday, down from about 75 at this time last year. Cumberland had 56 vacancies, down from 87 on the first day of school last August.
Cumberland County Schools Associate Superintendent of Human Resources Ruben Reyes said he thinks the recent relaxing of certain teacher licensure requirements has been helpful in getting teacher positions filled more quickly.
Cumberland, Johnston and other districts plan to bring in retired teachers and other substitutes to temporarily handle classrooms that are still without a teacher on the first day of school.