Compared to 8 other districts, pay-to-cost-of-living gap highest in Asheville

TEACHER PAY: Liz LeBleu, left, and Daniel Withrow lobby the Asheville City Board of Education to raise teacher pay. Photo by Greg Parlier

A local teachers group presented a grim picture to the Asheville City Board of Education on March 14 illustrating that Asheville teachers are paid less but face a higher cost of living compared with eight similar North Carolina districts.

While the state sets a base salary for various levels of teacher experience and education, local districts offer supplemental pay to offset varying costs of living, says Dillon Huffman, ACS public information officer. Using the comparison of teachers with less than master’s degrees and 10 years’ experience, the Asheville City Association of Educators showed that eight other districts have higher supplementals while each one’s cost of living was lower.

“We have a huge discrepancy in this district and Buncombe County compared to other districts in cost of living,” Daniel Withrow, president of ACAE, told the board.

Withrow presented a budget petition for fiscal year 2023-24 that advocates raising teacher pay by 7% and paying a living wage to all staff.

Asheville City Schools supplements the state-mandated salary of $47,000 for a 10-year teacher with 10% of the base rate, or $4,700 annually. By comparison, New Hanover County Schools in Wilmington pays 8% more while its cost of living is 14% less than Asheville’s.

For the analysis, ACAE used MIT’s 2022-23 cost of living calculator, which pegged Asheville’s living wage at $19.62 per hour. More recently, local nonprofit Just Economics of Western North Carolina determined Asheville’s living wage to be $20.10.

Wake County has the closest cost of living to Asheville of those compared — 5.7% lower than Asheville — but its supplement is 7% higher compared with Asheville.

ACAE also compared Asheville to Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Durham County, Guilford County and Forsyth County.

ACAE created the Our Kids Can’t Wait petition in January in tandem with Buncombe County Association of Educators. Distributed via email and Facebook, it has been signed by more than 82% of ACS staff and more than 2,000 ACS teachers, Buncombe County staff, parents and community supporters.

“Our kids need support, and we just cannot wait for the state to do what they’ve needed to do for a very long time,” said ACAE Vice President Liz LeBleu.

Board member Amy Ray asked if Withrow compared salaries of more veteran teachers, since ACS teacher pay increases as they stay with the district longer. Withrow said he used the 10-year mark for ease of comparison.

Several board members expressed support for the work of ACAE and asked for its continued involvement as budget talks continue in the coming months.

“When I look at the case you’re making, I couldn’t agree more. When I think about the creativity we’ll need to achieve this, I hope you’ll be with us to help us think through what are the ways forward with some of the realities that we face in North Carolina and Buncombe County.” said board member Rebecca Strimer.

Budget discussions for fiscal year 2023-24 are ongoing, and ACS must submit an approved budget to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners by Monday, May 15. ACAE had scheduled a public rally in Pack Square Park for March 20 before it was to deliver its petition to the Buncombe County Commission.

Superintendent search progress

Summit Search Solutions reported to the board about progress on its superintendent search, highlighting results from an electronic survey and seven in-person community forums. Identified as most important were classroom and administrative experience, commitment to and investment in ACS, and ability to recruit and retain teachers.

Participants also highlighted the district’s strengths and concerns they had with district operations. In total, 169 parents, 121 employees and 681 students responded.

So far, 31 applicants from 13 different states, including eight from North Carolina, have applied, said Summit representative Arasi Adkins. Applications for superintendent remain open through Thursday, March 23, when Summit expects to select 10-12 candidates for the board to interview based on applicants who are “particularly aligned” with the desires outlined by the board and community.

“It’s really exciting to me to know that we’ve got this input and it’s helping to guide how we start to vet these candidates. That’s really exciting to me,” said George Sieburg, ACS board chair.


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