06/23/04 — School officials upset by vote on teacher pay

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School officials upset by vote on teacher pay

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on June 23, 2004 2:20 PM

Wayne County school officials say they may not be able to afford teacher pay increases that were ordered Tuesday by the county commissioners.

Some Board of Education members are questioning whether the commissioners have the legal right to mandate the raises for more than 1,000 teachers.

The commissioners voted Tuesday to increase the school system's funding by $760,000, as part of the county budget, but not by the full amount the schools' requested. The schools had also asked for money to raise the teacher supplement.

But with the increase approved Tuesday, the commissioners demanded that the supplemental pay for teachers also be raised from 3.5 cents to 6.5 cents.

School board member Rick Pridgen was shocked by the announcement, he said today. "I don't know of another school system in North Carolina that that's ever been done. It's possibly stepping over the line."

The raises required by the commissioners would go to 1,072 teachers, who now make an average salary of just under $39,000. The annual increase would be $1,170. Including Social Security and retirement, the cost to the school system would be just over $1.4 million.

The commissioners ordered the school system to pay the raises without making any cuts in "curriculum or educational supplies." They suggested administrative or other areas should be trimmed first.

If the Board of Education doesn't comply, the county will not be required to give the school system its county funding, which amounts to $16 million, according to County Attorney Borden Parker.

Dr. Steve Taylor, schools superintendent, and Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for finance, were contacted by the News-Argus this morning but declined comment. Dr. Taylor said he preferred to speak with County Manager Lee Smith first and get more information about the mandate.

School board member Lehman Smith said there is no way the school system can afford what the commissioners suggest.

"The way it's worked out, we keep $2 million in our reserve," he said. "That $2 million is for emergencies, payroll, things like that.

"We can't pull that $2 million out. If we do, we'll be bankrupt."

He said that last year, when the school system did not get the requested 5 percent supplement that had been promised years ago by commissioners, the board began to look at other ways to help teachers.

"We had been trying to find enough to give them a one-half to 1 percent supplement," he said. "There's no way we can do a 3 percent supplement without cutting teachers again."

Smith said he did not know whether the commissioners were uninformed about the Board of Education or if the move was a political ploy since it is an election year.

"I really don't know where they're coming from," he said. "I'm not really sure that legally they can require us to do something like that.

"If they're going to dictate where the money goes, they're going to have to give us enough money to dictate that."

School board member Rick Pridgen said he had not had time to discuss the situation with other board members, but believes the board should talk with the commissioners and the county manager about it.

"I think we need to request in writing exactly what it is they're asking for," he said.

The supplement has been a source of conflict between the boards for years.

The Board of Education has repeatedly asked for separate allocations from the commissioners to pay higher supplements, something the commissioners have said they have been unable to afford in recent budgets.

But the commissioners have contended that the school board could have increased the supplement at any time but has chosen to spend money in other ways.

"I don't have their budget, but I believe I could find $1.5 million worth of fluff," Commissioner Arnold Flowers said Tuesday.

The commissioners noted that the school board spends $900,000 a year on assistant principals and $260,000 on principal pay supplement, all of which is above state requirements.

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