Some state employees get more holidays than others. But that might stop.

Fireworks light up the night sky over downtown Raleigh during the city's Fourth of July festival on July 4, 2017. Many North Carolina community colleges give extra holidays around the Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and Fourth of July holidays.
Fireworks light up the night sky over downtown Raleigh during the city's Fourth of July festival on July 4, 2017. Many North Carolina community colleges give extra holidays around the Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and Fourth of July holidays.

More than half of the community colleges in North Carolina give their workers more paid time off for holidays than other state employees are allowed to take.

But now that the practice is public knowledge, those in charge of the community college system are promising change.

“It is not good public policy for community colleges to offer more paid holidays than the state government standard,” State Board of Community Colleges Chairman Scott Shook said in a letter to State Auditor Beth Wood.

Wood’s office uncovered the extra vacation days. Shook said the practice will come to an end soon.

In public schools, state government agencies and throughout the UNC System, employees get to take off 12 paid holidays per year, including days around Christmas and Thanksgiving.

But there is no such limit for community colleges, which each are allowed to make their own rules even though they’re also funded by the state. In the 2016-17 school year, 32 of the state’s 58 community colleges exceeded 12 paid holidays. One nearly doubled that number.

Wood’s office said employees at the most generous school received more than $800,000 worth of additional paid holidays beyond what would be offered at state agencies. It’s unclear, however, how much the other 31 colleges spent on their extra vacation days.

An audit released Thursday began with an investigation into holiday pay at Central Carolina Community College, which has campuses in Chatham, Harnett and Lee counties. The investigation later expanded to all of the state’s 58 community colleges, which employ tens of thousands of people all over the state.

At Central Carolina Community College, employees got 23 paid holidays off – the equivalent of more than a month off of work, and nearly double what the typical state employee gets.

Employees at 31 other community colleges around the state got between 13 and 20 days off.

In the Triangle, Durham Technical Community College gave 16 paid holidays off; Wake Technical Community College and Johnston Community College both gave the standard 12 holidays off.

In most cases, the extra holidays came around Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and the Fourth of July. Several schools gave up to seven extra days off around Christmas.

At Central Carolina, employees also got Election Day off – the only school to do so. In total, Wood’s office said, that school’s 11 extra paid holidays meant the school “paid employees $862,424 for days they did not work” in 2016.

Wood’s office didn’t do similar accounting for the rest of the colleges, said spokesman Brad Young, because doing so “would have taken significantly more time.” As is, the audit took 323.5 hours of work and cost $33,320.50 to complete.

Extra holidays may come to an end

Wood’s office found that the State Board of Community Colleges had never addressed the holiday issue, except for a memo sent 15 years ago that recommended following state policy – and that the board never “followed-up on that guidance or attempted to enforce that recommendation.”

But now the board’s chairman, Shook, says it will put a stop to the practice soon.

“Even though community colleges are managed by local boards of trustees, most employees’ salaries are paid with state funds and, as such, community colleges should conform with certain expectations and norms,” he said in his letter to Wood earlier this month.

The president of Central Carolina’s board of trustees, Julian Philpott, defended the college’s actions. He said the trustees originally wanted to give employees a pay raise but weren’t able to, and so they settled on the extra holidays instead.

The college didn’t break any rules, he said, since there was no statewide rule like the one Shook says he wants to create.

“The additional holidays were offered to CCCC employees as a means of rewarding their outstanding work and commitment to the college,” Philpott wrote to Wood’s office. “We are a top-performing college in the nation, and it is the work and dedication of our employees that makes this possible.”

Those perks are gone now, though.

Philpott said that after Wood’s office notified Central Carolina, the trustees voted to take away the extra holidays and put the school back in line with regular state holiday policies.

And even when the school offered nearly double the number of state holidays, he said, all employees were still required to do the same amount of work.

“We did not hire additional staff or reduce responsibilities for any employees when the holidays were added,” he said.

Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran