CHCCS to reinstate teaching signing bonuses

jalexander@newsobserver.comJuly 18, 2014 

— The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools system will bring back $1,500 signing bonuses for future hires – teachers in the areas of math, science and exceptional children – to attract more applicants to the harder-to-fill positions.

The school board unanimously approved the bonuses at Thursday night’s meeting. The district had signing bonuses until the economic downturn forced the board to cut it from the budget in 2009-10.

Other districts also have bonuses or one-time payments.

Durham Public Schools recently gave all of its returning teachers a $500 one-time payment and all other employees a $250 one-time payment.

In the CHCCS, those receiving the bonus will be Pre-K-12 system level EC teachers, middle school and high school EC resource teachers, and high school math teachers and high school science teachers. It is expected to cost the district $60,000 based on the number of positions needed to be filled.

The bonuses will require the district to add $60,000 to an already identified $850,000 in cuts to the coming school year’s budget. The board has not identified where it will make the additional $60,000 in cuts and could have to cut more depending on the eventual state budget.

This year, the district has lost a significant numbers math, science and EC teachers. There were 34 vacancies in those areas. Ten teachers in math, science and EC resigned in the past two weeks, while 16 had declined offers. Several accepted offers and then later declined, district officials said.

When asked was it a big number for the district, Todd LoFrese, assistant superintendent for support services, said “Oh yeah.”

“This is not a cure all, this is a Band-aid,” he said. “But we need to compete, and we need to get some teachers hired, especially in those areas.”

The uncertainty of the state budget, the potential loss of career status (tenure) and pay freezes have all contributed to teacher turnover. Some teachers are leaving the district to go to different states. Some are leaving the professions. Others are looking for districts with the highest possible pay.

State lawmakers have competing plans to raise teacher pay. The House budget proposes average 5 percent raises for teachers, who would not need to give up their tenure to get the increase. The Senate budget originally included 11 percent raises for teachers who relinquish their tenure, as well as significant cuts to teacher assistants in grades K-3. The Senate has since removed asking teachers to relinquish their tenure from its proposed budget.

Both the House and Senate budgets would raise minimum teacher pay to $33,000 a year.

LoFrese said that a teacher that was recently hired is taking a $5,000 dollar pay cut coming from Mississippi.

“Just the fact that we’re having to do this highlights how drastic the teaching situation is and conditions for teachers in North Carolina are because we’re not the only district that is experiencing this,” he said. “This is happening across the state.”

If the Senate’s budget was passed the district would have to make nearly $4 million in cuts. If the House budget was passed then around $910,000 in cuts would be made.

‘Sliver of truth’

Toward the end of the meeting, board Chairwoman Jamezetta Bedford scolded board member James Barrett for providing to the public what she said was a “sliver of truth” in regard to proposed cuts to custodial staff. In response to a post on OrangePolitics.org, Barrett posted a comment that include the second tier of potential budget cuts with the custodial cuts.

“I think the public needs to know what the truth is about the numbers,” Barrett told Bedford.

Bedford said she found it to be disrespectful and felt that Barrett provided the information without context. In an effort to answer questions from the public, she published a letter to the editor in the July 16 Chapel Hill News ( bit.ly/1rwSSs6) further explaining why the cuts were proposed.

“I know you feel very passionate about the issue, but I think it was very bad boardmanship,” Bedford told Barrett. “Because you learn in school board 101 that when the vast majority has one decision, you don’t undermine it.”

Barrett defended himself, saying he only provided information that was shared at a public meeting.

The district has proposed three tiers of cuts depending on which budget is passed. The multiple cuts that include the custodial staff would be in the district’s planned second tier of cuts and save approximately $125,000 if implemented.

Bedford explains in her letter that 11 of the 19 schools in the district are cleaned by a contractor in the evening. All of the district’s schools are staffed with district employees during the day. In schools that are not currently contracted, the district would eliminate part time positions and consolidate full time employees.

Three of the eight district-staffed schools would be changed to the custodial service. The district would request that part-time employees be offered employment with the contractor, which could mean a roughly $2 per hour pay cut. As full-time employees retire or resign, the district would transition the remaining schools to the custodial service over time and would save $275,000.

Barrett did not support the proposal.

Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1

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