School workers miffed by 'insult' of a raise
Posted August 12, 2014
Cary, N.C. — Legislative leaders have talked a lot this summer about the raises they gave to public school teachers and most state employees, but they don't have as much to say about the raises for educational support staff in the state budget.
The $21.1 billion budget, which Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law last week, included raises averaging 5.5 percent, plus longevity pay, for teachers and $1,000 and an extra week of vacation for other state workers. But more than 59,200 non-certified school employees – teaching assistants, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and administrative staff – received only a $500 raise.
"That's not equitable. It just doesn't make sense," said Chris Bridges, who has worked 21 years in the Wake County Public School System Transportation Office.
Bridges noted that, if he did his job at a state agency instead of a school district, his raise would have been double what he will see in the coming year – and he would have gotten more time off.
"We all work for the public, and we should all get the same thing," he said. "What you do for one, you do for all, because we're all in the same boat. I still got to pay my mortgage. I still got to pay the light bill."
Non-certified school workers are some of the lowest-paid public-sector workers in North Carolina. They haven't had a real raise since 2008, and Bridges said $500 barely qualifies as one now.
"You're not even going to see that," he said. "It'll be $45 in your paycheck every month. That's not a raise. That's pretty much an insult."
Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, a budget writer in the state House, said lawmakers did the best they could with the money they had. The $500 raise was a compromise with Senate leaders, who wanted no raise at all for school support staff, he said.
"You've got to start somewhere. I refuse to do nothing and wait till we have more money. These folks are struggling," Horn said, adding that the raises still "roughly align" with the average 2 percent raises given to other state workers.
Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, the chief House budget writer, said school districts could use local funds to add their own raises for support workers if they want to do so.
Wake County school administrators said there's no plan at this point for additional raises for support staff, and other school districts are looking at cutbacks because of tight budgets.
"We’ll take what we got and be satisfied with it, even though we don’t like it," said Bridges, who represents support workers in the North Carolina Association of Educators. "We’ll fight that battle at the polls."