A plan to give thousands of the Wake County school system’s lowest-paid employees a $500 bonus has put the spotlight on how many workers earn less than $15 an hour.
The Wake County school board is scheduled to vote Dec. 6 on a plan to use up to $2.5 million in state and local dollars to award a one-timebonus to employees who are making less than $15 an hour and who also have good job evaluations.
Around half of Wake’s support staff, or 4,300 employees, are potentially eligible for the bonus. The group includes employees such as teacher assistants, school cafeteria workers, bus drivers, mechanics, custodians and clerical staff.
“What we’re doing here is targeting our lowest-paid employees,” David Neter, Wake’s chief business officer, told the school board on Nov. 15. “There’s been discussion recently about the general benchmark of $15 an hour being in some ways considered a minimum living wage if you will.”
Labor groups around the nation have been pushing to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour. Some communities and states, including California and New York, have made the change.
Locally, the Wake County Board of Commissioners approved in November 2015 a plan to raise the minimum wage for county employees to $13.50 an hour. School board members said they felt pressure to respond to the county’s plan after seeing how many school employees are on the low end of the salary scale.
It would take, respectively, 28 years and 14 years for Wake teacher assistants and bus drivers to reach $15 an hour. Low pay has led to issues such as difficulties recruiting bus drivers, who start at $12.55 an hour.
“This is a budget item that we should really seriously talk about,” said school board member Jim Martin. “Our employees should not be any different than the county employees.”
The state sets the base salaries for most school employees, and school systems can supplement that pay. For each of the the past two years, the school board approved 3 percent pay raises for support staff.
Wake received $1.7 million from the state budget this year to provide bonuses to non-educators. Wake isn’t allowed to provide across-the-board raises so it’s limiting them to employees with good job ratings.
Neter said school administrators decided it would only be fair to provide the same bonus to locally funded support staff.
He said it’s uncertain how many of the 4,300 employees making less than $15 an hour will be eligible for the bonus. If the plan is approved, the bonuses will be awarded in January.
Full-time employees would get $500, and part-time employees would get a smaller amount. Full-time employees won’t receive the full amount because money will be taken out to pay taxes.