$ 98 million option to increase compensation for Wake County support staff

According to Wake County school officials, it would cost local taxpayers an additional $ 98 million per year to provide school workers with a living wage.

School administrators in Wake County blame low salaries – which are mostly state funded – with a vacancy rate of more than 10% for positions such as bus drivers, cafeteria workers, teacher assistants and school attendants. maintenance. School administrators on Monday presented a $ 98 million scenario for using local dollars to raise the minimum wage for support staff to $ 17.33 per hour.

Administrators stressed on Monday that they were not recommending the new scenario at this time. Instead, they’re waiting to see what increases might be in this year’s state budget.

Several school board members said on Monday that action was needed to raise wages. Board member Jim Martin suggested using federal COVID relief money to start raising wages now in an attempt to pressure state or county commissioners.

“We have to push the hand so that in three to five years the state or county will have to say ‘Oh, we’re cutting all this money’ or offering it,” Martin mentioned. “It may be bold action, but I’m ready for bold action. It has gone on too long. “

High vacancy rates for staff

Urgent action is needed as high vacancy rates are straining the ability of schools nationwide to bring students into and out of class, to feed students well and ensure that they are receive education.

Wake, which is North Carolina’s largest school district, has a 30% vacancy rate for infant nutrition staff, 17% for bus drivers, 15% for educational assistants, and 15% for school staff. maintenance and operation. As of Thursday, Wake was short of 433 teaching assistants, 277 cafeteria workers and 139 bus drivers.

Shortages have forced Wake to change bus routes this year, leading to complaints about the time it takes for students to get to school and return home. The shortages led Wake to “put on hold” its summer learning program for year-round, shift-schedule students, even though most still had weeks to go.

Wake offered recruiting bonuses of $ 1,200 for new bus drivers and teaching assistants. The state gives $ 10 million to school districts to provide bonuses to new and existing child nutrition workers.

Other districts also offered bonuses and higher salaries to try to attract people.

“There are other counties that are bypassing us in a significant way, not a little bit,” said Karen Carter, board member. “If somebody can go somewhere and make an extra $ 30 a day… that’s huge.

“In order for Wake County to remain competitive, we are now at the point where we either do that or there will be other implications that we will have to continue to face.”

The state grants few increases to staff

Wake principals say a major problem is that the state has not continued to increase school staff since the 2009 recession. Over the past 11 state budgets, support staff have not ‘received no raise in six years and only a $ 500 bonus. or $ 1,000 over two years.

The starting salary for a teacher assistant was $ 11.28 for the 2008-2009 school year. Over a decade later, it’s $ 11.80 an hour.

The past two years have seen no increases for support staff due to the budget struggle between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. and the Republican majority in the state legislature. Cooper has vetoed the last two budgets, in part because he said the increases weren’t big enough.

“We shouldn’t have to do it locally,” Martin said. “The state should take this tab. They are not.”

This year, the House and Senate budgets provided for increasing the minimum wage to $ 13 an hour for support staff. The House budget also planned to increase it to $ 15 an hour next year.

Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore are entering budget negotiations this week with Cooper, The News & Observer reported.

A local scenario for increases

In 2019, the school district introduced a 5-year, $ 35 million plan to use local funds to help supplement what the state provides to support staff. But if the state doesn’t do more to raise salaries, staff at Wake School on Monday presented a scenario for using even more local funds to raise salaries.

In this new four-year scenario:

In the first year, use $ 12 million of local funds to bring support staff to a minimum wage of $ 13 an hour.

In year two, use $ 27 million more than what you are currently spending to bring staff down to a low of $ 15 an hour.

In Year 3, use $ 51 million more than what you are currently spending to bring staff down to a low of $ 17.33 per hour.

In Year Four, use $ 98 million more than what is currently spent to keep staff at $ 17.33 an hour and address the wage cut. This is when current staff might earn less or only a little more than new workers.

The Wake County government pays its employees a minimum of $ 17.33 per hour.

If the state does not provide a “significant overall increase for support staff,” district administrators said they would likely recommend using $ 10 million of local funds for this purpose. This money is already available thanks to funding approved by county commissioners this year.

Martin, the board member, said the $ 98 million was not an unrealistic number for a county as wealthy as Wake.

“We can’t run a business with a staff structure that simply underpays our employees and makes our employees work for essentially free, which we do,” said Martin.

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T. Keung Hui has been covering Kindergarten to Grade 12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school staff, and the community understand the vital role education plays. North Carolina. Its main focus is Wake County, but it also covers education issues statewide.

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