Wake superintendent wants $55.8 million more for school district. Here’s where it will go.

Ernestine Mbata, a longtime Wake County school bus driver, was one of many who attended a rally calling on the Wake County school board to increase pay and improve work conditions in this 2021 file photo. (Julia Wall/jwall@newsobserver.com)
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Wake County Superintendent Catty Moore wants a $55.8 million increase in local education funding this year to help raise salaries for the lowest paid school workers.

Moore unveiled on Tuesday a proposed budget for the 2023-24 school year that asks the Wake County Board of Commissioners to provide a 9% increase in funding.

Under the proposed $2.1 billion operating budget, Moore wants $649 million from commissioners. The additional $55.8 million would provide raises for many employees, including increasing the current $16 an hour minimum salary for school support staff to $17 an hour.

Moore told the school board that raising employee compensation is a priority during a period of high vacancy rates.

The school board will hold a public hearing on the budget proposal on April 25 before voting on it May 2.

Wake County Manager David Ellis will recommend how much to increase school funding on May 1. Commissioners will vote on the budget in June.

The all-Democratic Board of Commissioners has historically been sympathetic to requests for more school funding. Last year, commissioners increased school funding by $50 million to help raise the minimum salaries to $16 an hour for employees such as cafeteria workers and teacher assistants.

But funding Moore’s budget this year would likely require a property tax increase. Ellis is only projecting a $53.5 million increase in county revenue this year at a time when he also has budget priorities

At a joint meeting of the school board and commissioners last month, Moore said $16 an hour is not a living wage in Wake County. She said school employees can often make more money working for the private sector.

Wake is still struggling with high vacancy rates, including 32.3% for bus drivers, 10.6% for cafeteria workers and 6% for instructional assistants. While the teacher vacancy rate is 2.5%, Moore said the district still has nearly 300 openings.

Moore’s budget proposal came the same day that several North Carolina business leaders released a report calling for higher salaries for the state’s teachers. The CEOs pointed to issues such as the growing teacher shortage and the rise in the number of vacancies across the state.

“As we strive toward a strong, sustainable economy that supports opportunities for all students, we must invest in things we know have long-lasting positive effects, like good teachers and NC Pre-K,” said Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS, in a statement. “This requires making our state more competitive with others in the Southeast and continuing to expand access to our proven early learning program.”

The state House adopted a budget last week that includes a 10.2% average raise for teachers over the next two years, and a 9.5% raise for school bus drivers to help improve driver shortages across the state. The budget now goes to the Senate.

Employee raises

Increases in employee pay account for $25.8 million of the $55.8 million request.

School support staff would get a minimum $17 an hour salary or a 4% increase, whichever is greater. Raises would be provided to other pay grades to deal with “salary compression,” in which newer employees may make as much as long-time staff.

Certified staff such as teachers would get a 4.5% increase in the local salary supplement that’s provided to the base pay provided by the state. Moore said this means local salary supplements will have increased 10.5% since 2018.

Teacher assistants, also called instructional assistants, would get an increase in pay when they serve as substitute teachers.

The budget also creates a salary supplement for women’s wrestling coaches.

Where are the increases going?

In addition to providing raises, Moore said the budget addresses items that have been funded by federal COVID-19. That funding is ending in 2024, so Wake will transition to local funding for recurring expenses.

Areas where the increase would go include:

Shift $11.8 million off COVID aid to pay for maintenance and operations.

An estimated $5.2 million increase due to employee matching retirement and hospitalization costs.

Transfer $3.9 million to charter schools as part of their share of the local funding increase.

Add $2 million to hire additional school counselors to help with student behavioral needs.

Shift $865,000 off COVID aid to pay for instructional support technicians to help students use with their district-provided computers.