The Wake County school system will provide pay raises for all employees this school year — as much as 43% for its lowest paid workers.
The Wake school board unanimously approved Tuesday a plan that raises the minimum salary for school support staff to $15 an hour, with higher rates for positions such as instructional assistants and bus drivers. All support staff employees will get at least a 5.3% raise, with the biggest raises of more than 40% going to the lowest-paid workers.
Teachers will also get raises in the plan.
“I hope our employees know how much they are valued,” said board member Heather Scott.
The money for the raises is being paid for locally this school year from available funds and savings. District leaders say they will need to come up with additional local funds to keep them past this school year.
In North Carolina, the state funds the base salaries for school employees with school districts supplementing the pay when they can.
The pay raises come as Wake and other school districts across the state and nation are facing major staffing shortages that are forcing existing workers to do more. The frustration boiled over earlier this fall, with some school bus drivers and cafeteria workers holding sick-outs to protest working conditions.
As of Nov. 1, Wake had a 20.8% vacancy rate for child nutrition workers, 19.4% for bus drivers, 13% for special-education instructional assistants and 11.1% overall for instructional assistants. Wake also had a 3% vacancy rate for teachers.
The raises in the plan include:
▪ Principals, assistant principals, certified staff, instructional support personnel, occupational therapists and physical therapists will get a total 2.5% increase to the local salary supplement retroactive to July 1.
▪ Occupational and physical therapists will get an additional 0.5% increase on the salary scale at steps 10 and above.
▪ Raise salaries for non-certified staff to minimum of $15 an hour starting Jan. 1.
▪ Increase regular education instructional assistants and bus drivers to salary grade 20. This means a new instructional assistant will make $16.20 an hour, up from the prior starting salary of $11.80 an hour.
▪ Increase special-ed instructional assistants and bus driver team leads to grade 21.
▪ Address “salary compression,” where existing workers make less than new workers, by increasing all pay grades and the salary steps within those grades for non-certified staff.
▪ Raise the daily rate for substitute teachers who don’t have a teaching license to $115.
“When bonuses and base pay are combined in January, most employees — certified and non-certified — will receive the largest individual paycheck of their WCPSS career,” Superintendent Cathy Moore said Tuesday.
Lobby for raises
On Tuesday, the Wake County chapter of the N.C. Association of Educators held a rally outside the school board meeting. Wake NCAE’s demands include a minimum $17 per hour salary for support staff and a 6% increase in the local salary supplement for teachers.
Previously, the school board voted to use federal COVID relief funds to provide full-time employees with $5,000 in bonuses that will be paid over the course of the year.
The new state budget also includes bonuses for all state-funded workers, including school employees. The state budget also includes an average 5% raise for teachers over the next two years and a minimum salary of $13 this year and $15 an hour next year for school support staff.
Wake NCAE said the prior district bonuses and new state budget don’t go far enough to recognize school employees for all the hard work they’ve done, especially during the COVID pandemic.
Wake’s raises drew a mixed response on Tuesday from school employees who spoke at the board meeting. Some employees felt the raises still didn’t go far enough.
“It’s hard to teach students about fair compensation when I don’t believe I’m getting it myself,” said teacher Grant Bess.
But teacher Rebecca Subat thanked the board for raising the pay for non-certified staff.
“I feel like my voice is being heard, which is super important,” Subat said.
Board member Jim Martin said that, in the absence of having taxing authority, that the district can’t raise the minimum salary for all employees to $17 an hour. But he said Tuesday’s raises are a start.
Future funding commitment
Unlike with teachers, Wake isn’t making the raises for support staff retroactive to July 1. David Neter, Wake’s chief business officer, said delaying their raises to Jan. 1 would allow the district to fund them with $40 million in available local funds.
“There isn’t enough funding at this time to do it for a full year,” Neter told the board.
Neter said it would require an additional $13 million in local funding next year to continue offering the $15 per hour minimum salary. If the state doesn’t follow through on its plan to raise salaries to $15 an hour, Neter said it would require an additional $21.7 million in local funds.
Martin said the public needs to lobby the state and county to help the district come up with the money to continue the raises.
New board leadership elected
In other action Tuesday, Lindsay Mahaffey was elected by her colleagues to become the new school board chairwoman.
Mahaffey replaces Keith Sutton, who is resigning from the school board to become superintendent of Warren County schools. Mahaffey, a former teacher, was elected to the school board in 2016 to represent southwestern Wake.
Chris Heagarty was also elected Tuesday as the new board vice chairman.