As another wave of school workers went on strike demanding better wages and working conditions on Tuesday, Wake County officials have approved a series of bonuses to keep them in schools.
The cafeteria workers’ strike is the second strike in two months among school staff, after a similar “stop” by bus drivers in the last week of October. Protests have intensified recently as school staff try to convince lawmakers to approve extra pay for the extra work they did during the coronavirus pandemic.
For many teachers and staff, COVID has been the straw that broke the camel’s back, prompting them to quit or take early retirement. Today, a severe shortage of substitute teachers, bus drivers (17% of positions are vacant), child nutrition workers (30% vacancy rate) and teaching assistants (15%) has resulted in more unpaid overtime for those who stay.
“This school system is in danger of losing hundreds of other amazing professionals,” Lisa Ashworth, AIG teacher at Green Magnet Elementary School, said Tuesday at the school board meeting.
âIn my school alone, we have had four quits since the start of the school year and I hear several discussions from others who are considering [leaving] before the end of the year. The number one reason for leaving is [lack of] fair compensation. “
Ashworth, along with the NC Association of Educators, is calling for a bonus of $ 2,000 for all staff, a minimum wage of $ 17 for support staff, and a 6% increase in the local supplement for educators and counselors.
The Wake County School Board responded to one of those requests on Tuesday, approving four bonuses of $ 1,250 to be paid over the next two years; If the state’s Department of Education approves the board’s use of this federal COVID money, all school employees will receive $ 3,750 in three bonus payments next year, plus $ 1,250 in 2023, for a total of $ 5,000 over the next two years.
The school board also increased the salary for substitute teachers, bringing it to $ 104 per day for uncertified employees and $ 130 per day for certified employees.
The council has yet to discuss another increase in the minimum wage after raising it to $ 13 an hour earlier this month, but Wake County Superintendent Cathy Moore said a presentation on the subject would be made to council on December 7th.
What does the state budget mean for teachers and staff?
Much of what the Wake County School Board can do is determined by the state, which provides a base salary for school employees and has had no real budget since 2018. The Three-Row Standoff years ended this week when Governor Roy Cooper and Republican lawmakers finally reached a compromise. Cooper, who said the budget is flawed but offers much-needed relief, is expected to sign the bill on Friday.
The budget provides an increase for teachers this year that averages 2.5 percent. However, since the increase is based on the number of years a teacher works, not all will receive that percentage, and some will receive much less, Superintendent Moore said. Some experienced teachers have already raised concerns about being excluded from salary increases.
Kristin Beller, president of the Wake County branch of the NCAE, on Tuesday asked the school board to use federal COVID money to give raises, not bonuses, saying they would do more good. Officials from the state’s Education Department, however, said they likely would not be able to approve the use of federal money in this way. Even if they did, Wake County would have to fund the increases once the federal money was used up.
The state budget also includes money to supplement teachers’ salaries in low-income school districts, but Wake County, along with four other counties, is not eligible to receive the funding. School board member Christine Kushner questioned the ruling, saying the district is ranked 110th out of 115 for state funding per student.
Kushner later criticized the state legislature more harshly, accusing them of the pay cut that teachers and staff in Wake County are currently facing.
“[Wage compression] This is not a sudden development, “Kushner said.” It is the result of inconsistent pay practices that the legislature has essentially forced upon us over the past 10 years. “
Kushner went on to express support for the Leandro Plan and for Superior Court Judge David Lee’s recent order for the state legislature to transfer $ 1.7 billion for public education into the state budget. .
“I hope Judge Lee can make an impact,” Kushner said.
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