Wake County Schools

Wake Board of Education will consider another $3,750 in employee bonuses, higher substitute pay

Posted November 11, 2021 10:55 a.m. EST
Updated November 11, 2021 10:49 p.m. EST

— The Wake County Board of Education will consider $3,750 in bonuses for employees and an increase in base pay for substitute teachers when it meets next week.

The bonuses would be paid out in three $1,250 installments – in January, May and November 2022.

The board meets Tuesday.

The district announced the proposal in a message to employees Wednesday. It follows a Nov. 2 board meeting in which the school board raised starting wages to $13 per hour, provided a $1,250 bonus to full-time employees and sightly raised the local contribution to teacher pay.

In the message, the district also expressed an interest in increasing starting pay for its non-educator workforce, including bus drivers. But the district isn’t recommending doing so next week, while leaders discuss the possibility with county commissioners, who control the district’s budget.

Shortages in schools statewide have led to delayed bus routes, modified school lunches and bus driver “sick outs” in protests of working conditions.

Data analyzed by WRAL News show vacancies in Wake County remain high, even after the board approved thousands of dollars in hiring bonuses for new employees.

Since that move, employees and representatives from the North Carolina Association of Educators Wake County chapter pressed the board repeatedly for more saying what the district was offering, and the board was considering, wasn’t enough to compensate long-underpaid and stressed employees and to make up for the extra work educators are now doing as they cover for classes during excessive teacher and substitute shortages.

President of the Wake branch of North Carolina Association of Educators Kristin Beller said the bonus is a nice start, but isn’t enough.

Beller said what would mean more for staff would be permanent raises

For substitute teachers: a base pay increase is being looked at, which Beller says is needed

"We know that 17 dollars an hour is a living wage in Wake County, why would we want public school staff to make less than a minimum wage," said Beller

Beller says this has to be the case for staff on all ends of the spectrum including teachers, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers

Her argument? You need these people to make the schools operate.

"Our kids can't wait. Their learning is being disrupted and interrupted every single day that vacant positions go unfilled in Wake County," said Beller

The group had demanded $2,000 bonuses, $17 per hour for all non-certified staff or a 20% pay raise, and a 6% increase in the local contribution to educator salaries.

What’s being proposed — and what isn’t

The bonuses would come from one-time federal COVID-19 stimulus funds, which can be used for retention and recruitment bonuses.

Industries nationwide have come up short on workers this year, as they've rebounded or reopened since the early days of the pandemic.

The district will propose increasing substitute teacher pay, though it didn’t disclose what that proposal would be. Currently, substitute teachers earn $80 per day if they are not certified teachers. Certification bumps it up to $103 per day. Years of experience have no bearing on pay rates — all substitute teachers earn the same amount, based only on their certification status.

The board will also discuss — but likely not vote on — an increase in base pay for all non-certified staff, described as “expected” be to $15 per hour, according to the message to employees.

Non-certified staff are mostly non-classroom, non-educator staff except for instructional assistants.

The starting wage would be even more for bus drivers and instructional assistants. Right now, bus drivers earn $15 per hour starting out. Instructional assistants earned $11.80 starting out before the board approved a $13 per hour minimum wage on Nov. 2.

The district doesn’t anticipate a vote on this increase, however, citing its own financial constraints in pulling off that pay raise.

“In order to achieve this, we need the support of state and local governments,” the message reads. “School boards in North Carolina do not have taxing authority. They rely entirely on funding from state lawmakers, county commissioners and the federal government.”

A vote could come at the Dec. 7 board meeting, district officials wrote, allowing board members and district officials more time to ask county commissioners what would be possible while the state — which is legally charged with funding education but for facilities — continues to negotiate a budget.

“Employees are encouraged to follow state budget discussions, including updates regarding the Leandro lawsuit, in local media,” the message states. “The state budget is critical to deciding pay increases for teachers and other staff.”

The “Leandro lawsuit” is a long-running case challenging whether North Carolina funds schools sufficiently. Courts have ruled that the state does not. A remedy that would, among other things, boost employee pay was approved in court earlier this year, and a judge this week ordered the state moved unappropriated general funds into education, bypassing lawmakers.

It’s not clear how much the raises for Wake County Public School System employees, as suggested by the district, would cost.

It’s not clear how much the raises would cost.

The district set aside $10 million to increase starting wages to $13 for non-certified employees earlier this month. At the time, about 1,600 employees were earning below $13 per hour.

What WCPSS employees are making

About 1,900 employees earn $13 per hour or more but less than $15 per hour.

Nationally certified teachers in Wake County earn $49,961.60 annually. That increases most years, up until the teachers reaches 31 years of experience, when salary tops out at $72,027.20.

Wake County has the highest average local teacher supplement, at $8,873 during the 2020-21 school year, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

The cost of living in Wake County has risen as growth has exploded.

Currently, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator calls a “living wage” for an adult without children to be $16.32 per hour in Wake County. In a two-adult household with three children, in which both adults work, a “living wage” would be $28.67 per hour for each adult.

Beyond sharp housing price increases in the area, child care costs for working parents have also risen.

The Economic Policy Institute reports the average annual cost of infant care in the state is $9,480 — more than the cost of a year of in-state, four-year college tuition.

Vacancy rates remain high, even after previous bonuses for some

This summer, the Wake County Board of Education approved hiring bonuses for new bus drivers, special education teachers and instructional assistants.

The district has fewer bus drivers now than it did when the school year started — and when bus routes were first delayed, sometimes by hours, because of a bus driver shortage.

WRAL News requested data from the Wake County Public School System on vacancies for bus drivers, nutrition staff, teachers and instructional assistants.

The district responded this week with principal-reported data as of Nov. 1. Compared to data from August, it shows:

  • 159 bus driver openings, up from 138 when the school year began. That means about one in 5 of the district’s more than 800 bus drivers jobs is vacant.
  • 172 nutrition staff openings, out of 827, an improvement from 226 when the school year began. About one in five positions are remain open.
  • 315 instructional assistant vacancies, up from 287 on Aug. 13. The number of instructional assistant positions is typically around 2,800, meaning one in 10 classrooms that should have an instructional assistant don’t. Vacancies are higher in special education.

How much improvement has been made since August on filling empty teacher positions is less clear, because the overall number of teaching jobs fluctuates more than the other positions WRAL inquired about.

But data show the vacancy rate hasn’t changed much.

The number of teaching jobs was about 12,700 on Aug. 13, 11,400 on Oct. 7 and 12,000 on Nov. 1. Some positions have been eliminated through other teachers assuming classes for virtual academy and other courses that couldn’t hire one.

The number of vacancies has dropped from 366 in August to 354 in November, a vacancy rate near 3%. The vacancy rate has consistently been higher for special education teachers, at 5.3% in August and 4.6% in November.

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