Politics & Government

Why haven’t we gotten raises, NC’s largest school system asks governor, lawmakers

On the first day of the school year for many students, the largest school system in North Carolina sent a letter to the governor and the General Assembly asking them to pass the state budget and fund raises.

The Wake County school district’s Division of Principals and Assistant Principals sent the letter Monday asking about “promised but unfunded” pay increases for support staff and step increases for salaried employees.

“Much-needed additional mental health staff and school resource officer positions remain vacant leaving our students vulnerable,” the letter states. It was signed by the division president, Teresa Caswell, and its legislative chair, Scott Lassiter.

“Without a ratified state budget, our students have started school without some very important items on their school supply lists — resources, support, and safety,” they wrote.

Raises for teachers and other state employees are held up because of the summer-long budget standoff. N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the budget on June 28 and offered a compromise on July 9. A veto override has been on the House calendar since then, but so far there hasn’t been a vote. The General Assembly budget did not include Medicaid expansion, which the governor has said he wants part of the negotiations.

The budget Cooper vetoed included an average teacher pay raise of 3.9% over the next two years, The News & Observer previously reported.

Cooper’s budget compromise calls for an average 8.5% raise for teachers.

In a news release emailed to the news media, Lassiter said, “If our good friends on Jones Street or in the Capital need help solving this situation I know there are hundreds of skilled, trained and ready school administrators out there who could get a compromise in place. After all, we could not get away with this kind of gridlock in our schools.”

Possible raises bill

Last week, House Speaker Tim Moore, a Kings Mountain Republican, said that Republican leaders would roll out a state employees raise bill this week, in an attempt to pass it separately from the rest of the budget.

Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, also announced last week a proposed bill to use most of the $897 million budget surplus for a taxpayer refund. The refund would give $125 back to individuals and $250 for a couple filing taxes jointly, if they paid at least that amount in taxes. The refunds, if passed, would go to 5.1 million North Carolinians this fall and use about $680 million of the surplus.

But Democrats have said they want surplus funds to go to education and other priorities.

The governor’s spokesperson Sadie Weiner told The News & Observer that Cooper will review any final legislation, “but given the way this legislature has shortchanged public education, this money is badly needed in our public schools.”

The taxpayer refund was expected to go through a Senate committee Monday and could be discussed on the floor on Tuesday. A schedule for a state employees raises bill has yet to be announced.

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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham for 13 years, and has received six North Carolina Press Association awards, including a 2018 award for investigative reporting.