Politics & Government

Orange County school districts seek money to retain teachers

Wake County Commissioner Jessica Holmes (District 3) asks a question during a joint meeting of the County Commission and the Wake County School Board Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016 at the McKimmon Center in Raleigh, N.C. The joint meeting was to discuss plans for the future and where money might come for school construction.
Wake County Commissioner Jessica Holmes (District 3) asks a question during a joint meeting of the County Commission and the Wake County School Board Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016 at the McKimmon Center in Raleigh, N.C. The joint meeting was to discuss plans for the future and where money might come for school construction. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Orange County’s school districts have asked county commissioners for $8.3 million more next year, in part to slow the tide of teachers leaving for other districts.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County school districts pay supplements of 10 percent to 12 percent on top of state-mandated base salaries for new teachers. But annual turnover has risen to 18.5 percent in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools and 18 percent in Orange County, district officials said.

That left Chapel Hill-Carrboro without enough qualified elementary teachers this year and made it difficult to find other teachers, they said. Competition is compounding the problem. Wake, for instance, offers new teachers up to $2,500 more, Chapel Hill-Carrboro officials said, and invested $16 million in teacher salaries in October, the first step in a five-year plan to meet the national average.

That prompted the school board in April to raise next year’s supplement to 16 percent and offer signing bonuses for math, science and exceptional class teachers.

“The recruiting season is now, so there’s certainly no way we could stand at a table next to Wake and say, ‘Hey, come to Chapel Hill-Carrboro, we’ll give you 12 percent, and they’ll give you 18,’” school board member Rani Dasi said. “It really didn’t feel like a choice for us.”

Wake lovefest

Members of the Wake County Board of Commissioners and school board were practically falling over themselves at this week’s joint meeting to talk about how well they’re getting along now.

Angry verbal exchanges used to be a part of the meetings between the Democratic-led school board and the previously Republican-led commissioners. But that hasn’t been the case since Democrats took control of the Board of Commissioners in the 2014 election.

“I’ve not felt my blood pressure spike,” said school board Chairman Tom Benton. “My face hasn’t turned red. I haven’t heard anybody raise their voice or shake their finger at anybody, which was sort of what had become our custom until the last couple of meetings that we’ve had.”

Words like civil, respectful and collaborative were used by members of both boards as they continue working on the next school construction program.

“It’s very clear that we have a lot of challenges and a lot of important decisions to make over the coming weeks and months,” said Commissioner Jessica Holmes. “I am comforted in the fact that every single person sitting here at this table has made a commitment to do what is best by our children.”

More reappraisals?

Durham County Tax Administrator Kimberly Simpson said she will recommend over the summer that the Board of Commissioners move to a shorter property reappraisal cycle.

Reappraisal is required by state law at least every eight years. The process updates real property tax values to current market value for the 110,000 parcels in Durham County. In December, the county sent out reappraisal notices for the first time in eight years. Some property owners experienced sticker shock as they saw the appraised value of their property double or triple.

Moving to a shorter cycle would reduce that reaction and better reflect some of the rapidly changing market values in the county, Simpson said.

Political events

▪ U.S. Senate candidate Deborah Ross will speak to the Durham Democratic Women, an auxiliary of the N.C. Democratic Party, at the East Regional Library, 211 Lick Creek Lane in Durham, on Sunday, May 1. The meeting runs from 3 to 5 p.m. Also on the agenda: a bus stop voter registration project and reports on You Can Vote, ERA, the June 7 primary election, recent voting concerns and the power of the pen. Open to all registered Democrats. Contact Helen Compton at 919-606-9490 or go to durhamdemwomen.org.

Compiled by Tammy Grubb, T. Keung Hui and Virginia Bridges.

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