After roughly two years of petitions, rallies, public comments and more, employees at Asheville City Schools are one step closer to long-sought pay raises for teachers and other employees in the district.
During a more than four-hour meeting April 17, the Asheville City Board of Education approved budget recommendations that include a 7% increase to each pay level for certified staff, which includes teachers, and starting pay for all hourly employees, including bus drivers and custodial workers, to $20 per hour.
The boardroom at 85 Mountain St. reached capacity during the meeting, when 14 school district employees, including teachers and bus drivers, spoke of the need for raises during public comment.
“We live in a city where the cost of living is high and where the focus is more on accommodating tourism versus our own community. We are asking for an affordable, living wage,” said Ana Hernandez, a kindergarten teacher at Claxton Elementary School. “The amount of work that we do and the amount of work that is pushed and expected of us does not match our pay.”
While initial compensation recommendations from interim Superintendent Jim Causby included a 3.5% increase for both salaried and hourly workers, the board requested additional budget configurations to meet the demands of employees.
The approved raises for salaried staff will include a 7% increase in supplemental pay. Supplements are paid by each district to reflect local costs of living and are calculated as a percentage of the state base pay and vary by years of experience. Currently, a first-year teacher’s salary in North Carolina is $37,000, and Asheville City Schools adds 9% to that rate. That brings pay for a beginning Asheville City Schools teacher to $40,330. The state also is expected to boost base salaries by 4.25% next fiscal year. That, plus the recommended supplement increases, would bring starting pay for teachers to $44,744.
The recommended budget will bring starting pay for all hourly staff to $20 per hour, just below the $20.10 living wage set by Just Economics this year. Currently, the lowest-paid hourly position pays $15 per hour, plus a local supplement depending on years of service that starts at 9% of base pay. The recommended framework would increase base pay to $18.35, bringing total pay to at least $20 per hour for the lowest-paid employees.
The board also approved a recommendation to reduce the district’s central office budget by roughly $869,000 through staffing and other cuts. A recommendation to cut student-facing positions was rejected, with the board instead calling for the positions to be funded through the district’s fund balance.
The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will decide whether to fund the pay raises as a part of its 2023-24 budget. The compensation package means the district seeks $7.7 million more than last year’s allocation of $15.2 million, a 49% increase. The county already projected an additional $1.5 million for the school district next fiscal year. The school board also will request that Buncombe County increase the Asheville City Schools property tax from 10.62 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 12 cents to help cover the costs of the raises. For residents with homes valued at $200,000, it would mean $27.60 more in property taxes per year.
Buncombe County commissioners have tentatively set Tuesday, June 20, to vote on next fiscal year’s budget. If approved, the pay raises for school employees would take effect July 1.