Buncombe Schools seeks raises for some staff

STAFF PAY The Buncombe County Board of Education heard updates to school staff pay from staff and complaints about low pay from teachers at its meeting April 14. Photo courtesy of Buncombe County Schools.

Buncombe County Schools’ CFO announced plans to expedite full implementation of classified staff raises, recommended by a 2022 salary study, at a Buncombe County Board of Education meeting on April 13.

The plan would skip ahead a year to phase three of an updated salary schedule if approved by the school board and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners at upcoming meetings.

Classified staff — school employees without teaching certifications — would get an average increase of 17.4% over 2019 pay, starting July 1, if the plan is fully implemented, said Tina Thorpe, chief financial officer for Buncombe County Schools.

The 2022 salary study by Hickory-based HIL Consultants also recommended step increases for every year of service up to 30 years for classified staff, according to Thorpe’s presentation.

As an example, Thorpe showed board members what the raises would do for a staff member at pay grade 61, which comprises positions such as elementary data manager and electrician, according to the salary study. That position would go from earning $16.07 an hour in 2021 to earning $20.73 an hour next school year — a 29% increase over two years.

Thorpe said the work of the board to increase pay should be applauded considering financial challenges they face from the state, a fact not lost on the Buncombe County Association of Educators.

“We appreciate the hard work of the Buncombe County Schools staff who navigate the difficulties of creating a budget limited by legislation and a state legislature that has failed to uphold their end of the deal in adequately funding our public schools for years,” Shanna Peele, president of the BCAE, wrote in an email to Xpress after the meeting.

“While these efforts are valued, they are not enough to address the crisis our schools are facing.  Our students deserve fully staffed classrooms with educators who are able to focus on their work, not educators who are tired from working two or three jobs and worried about putting food on the table,” she wrote.

BCAE is advocating for classified staff to earn a living wage or get a 20% raise, whichever is higher. The living wage in Buncombe County is $20.10 an hour, as calculated by local nonprofit Just Economics.

“We feel that our current rate of $20.10 an hour represents a wage that would allow for the faculty and staff of Buncombe County Schools to provide the bare minimum for their most basic needs, and Just Economics encourages this board to include this figure as the baseline in their next labor budget,” said Eric Smythers, living wage program coordinator for Just Economics during public comment.

Several Buncombe teachers and staff also spoke during public comment to plead for higher wages.

“Every week we are choosing between fixing our cars, paying for a root canal, [paying] other medical bills and wondering if we can send our kid to art camp or pay for soccer. There is an inability to save for retirement, a home or a rainy day for our new teachers and for most teachers,” said Joan Hoffman, a career and technical education teacher at A.C. Reynolds High School.

“We can’t be at our best when we are in survival mode holding down multiple jobs,” she continued.

David Honea, a teacher and coach at A.C. Reynolds, said he would make $16,000 more a year in Wake County, where he’s from, for the same work he does here. He said he makes less as a coach in Buncombe than he did in Wake 20 years ago.

“When I look to the future, even if I stay here, I don’t know how to convince a talented coach to come work with me,” he said. “Going forward, we have to make choices about salaries for teaching and coaching that tell people the work they do is valuable and that we want them to do it here.”

In other news

School board members voted down a request by staff for a $50-per-month increase to tuition at four Buncombe County-operated child care centers.

The child care centers at A.C. Reynolds High School, Clyde A. Erwin High School, North Buncombe High School and T.C. Roberson High School are struggling to remain self-funded, according to a presentation from Thorpe.

The centers raised tuition by $110 a month in the 2020-21 school year to the current rate of $525 a month, according to staff documents. Thorpe said that is not enough to cover the salary increases approved after last year’s salary study.

In order to be self-sustaining after full implementation of salary raises, tuition would need to increase to $768 a month by 2024, Thorpe said.

Board member Kim Plemmons said that was too high, especially considering lunch is not provided and the centers close at 3:30 p.m. while some private centers are open later.

“I’m not comfortable asking these parents for extra tuition at this time. I can tell you, we can take our kids to other child care centers. I don’t want to add an extra burden on our teachers,” Plemmons said.

Board member Amy Churchill suggested staff look into pre-kindergarten grants to help make up the budget shortfall and consider keeping the centers open later as a trade-off for potentially increasing tuition.

“We’re asking parents to pay the same as [at] some of the five-star facilities in the county. I think we need to make up the money in another way. We need to find another way,” said board member Amanda Simpkins.


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