Wayne County School Board

School board Vice Chairman Rick Pridgen, left, and Chairman Chris West, center, listen as Wayne County Public Schools Superintendent Michael Dunsmore, right, discusses the importance of raising the local teacher supplement. The board voted to recommend the $187 million budget plan for fiscal 2019-20 to the county commissioners. The budget includes a 1 percent increase in the teacher supplement to 7.5 percent.

Increased teacher supplements and a new gymnasium are proposed in the Wayne County Board of Education budget plan for the next fiscal  year.

The $187 million budget, which now goes to the county commissioners for consideration, includes a 1 percent boost in the teacher supplement and a competition gymnasium for Southern Wayne High School.

The board decided to put any classroom additions on hold until a demographic study is completed as part of the Wayne County Public Schools redistricting effort.

Superintendent Michael Dunsmore covered the highlights of the proposed budget during a school board meeting Wednesday. One of the main recommendations he lobbied for is a 1 percent boost to teacher supplements, which would raise the stipend to 7.5 percent.

“Last year, we asked for teacher supplement increases to be spread out (over 10 years),” he said. “We realize we can’t catch up with our neighbors to the west but I think what our staff wants to see is a commitment that we’re at least trying to get close and value our staff.”

He said the $800,000 line item would at least reflect the premium being placed on educators in Wayne County.

“We’re losing teachers at a pretty significant rate, as it gets harder to recruit certified staff,” he said, adding that cuts by the state in such areas as retirement benefits and raises has caused more educators to migrate to districts with higher teacher supplements.

WCPS is “significantly behind” other districts, Dunsmore said, and has a high turnover rate, even in areas like clerical staff, custodians, maintenance and other support staff, and lags behind their counterparts in city and county government.

It has been more than a decade since the county bumped up the supplement. In 2004, the county commissioners and school board brokered a raise from the 3.5 percent teacher supplement to 6.5 percent, which went into effect in the spring 2005.

Dunsmore said providing competitive wages is important but so is valuing district employees.

“I’m not trying to keep up with the Johnstons or the Wakes or other places,” he said. “That’s not the purpose. I think, at this point, our staff work hard, they’re doing great things. We want to be able to show them that we’re at least trying for this.”

Dunsmore said he understands and empathizes with the county commissioners, which have decisions to make regarding the budget. That is why district leaders previously proposed a multi-year plan.

“You said you don’t want to keep up with the Johnstons and the Wakes,” said board member Ven Faulk. “But it would be nice to keep up with the Duplins and the Wilsons.”

“And the Greenes,” added board Chairman Chris West.

The board voted to move forward with plans to build a competition gym at Southern Wayne High, in part prompted by funding being earmarked for the project.

About $3.2 million came from bond money the commissioners proposed, as well as another $518,513 left over from a sewer project at Grantham School. The bond money is not able to be redirected to other projects, Dunsmore told the board.

The project is estimated to cost about $5.7 million, said Tim Harrell, director of project operations.

Board member Rick Pridgen, chairman of the facilities committee, said he is in favor of the project but also has mixed feelings about one area in particular— the need for classrooms in the district.

“We’re in the middle of looking to see where we need to build classrooms, and how we need to redistrict our schools,” he said. “I’m very concerned about us being able, once the redistricting process is over with, about us being able to have the money to build the classrooms that we need in the right location.”

Pridgen said there is a disparity when it comes to per-pupil funding and the access to local money, which has to be funnelled through the county commission.

“We’re the 21st largest school system in the state, but in our per-pupil spending are 95th in the state,” he said. “We should be funded in the top 25 percent instead of the lower 6 percent.”

West agreed, saying he still hopes the much-needed classrooms can come to fruition, especially at schools like Fremont STARS Elementary, where land has been secured. West said the community has waited patiently for the upgrades to the aging facilities to the Fremont school.

When put to a vote, the board approved the Southern Wayne project in a 5-1 vote, with board member Pat Burden voting in opposition.