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Local, state officials discuss funding for school employees


Money for schools, a countywide water system, and a possible rail link between Cumberland and Wake counties were topics discussed during a joint meeting Monday of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, the county Board of Education and members of the local legislative delegation.

The two boards asked the legislators to help fund a state law that takes effect July 1 that raises the minimum wage to $15 an hour for some school employees. The county also asked for state help in its efforts to extend safe drinking water to the Gray’s Creek community affected by groundwater contamination. The county also asked for state consideration in helping with a plan to establish a rail line from Cumberland to Wake County via a tie-in in Johnston County.

The first issue discussed was help in paying for a state-mandated minimum pay increase to $15 an hour for noncertified school employees, such as custodians or bus drivers. Greg West, chairman of the county school board, has previously said the $15 an hour minimum wage would cost Cumberland County Schools about $16 million a year.

The county is seeking $1.7 million to fully implement the mandate for all state-funded positions, a spokesman said. 

Before the meeting officially started, state Rep. Billy Richardson reminded the county and school governing boards that he previously submitted legislation that would help fund education, and those bills were not supported locally.

And state Rep. John Szoka early on took exception to the school board’s videotaped presentation that said funding for noncertified employees does not adequately cover minimum requirements.

“Right now, I don’t believe it. I did prepare for this meeting,” he said.

Szoka said he checked with the nonpartisan staff that helped draft the $15 per hour legislation and they told him that all state-funded employees working for local school systems would be paid from state money.

The video presentation was made by Hurd, Isenhour Lopes LLC, a consulting firm hired by the school board. Ricky Lopes, who in 2015 retired as finance officer for Cumberland County Schools, is a partner in the firm, HIL Consultants, and was the featured presenter in the video.

In the presentation, Lopes said salary compression and Cumberland County’s low wealth are major budgetary problems in implementing the law. To avoid having new employees earn the same as those who have worked for the schools for a longer time, the school system needs more money to expand those salary ranges. 

The 24-minute video, which was accompanied by handouts, ended by asking for the following considerations: 

  • Ensure state funding is adequate to fully implement the state mandate of $15 an hour or 2.5 percent. 
  • Provide funding to combat the corresponding salary compression caused by increasing the minimum floor of the state salary schedules. 
  • Provide funding to help minimize the impact on local budgets. 
  • Review the funding formulas for teacher supplements to ensure the funding is going to the neediest districts in the state and the disbursement of funds is equitable. 

Szoka and state Rep. Diane Wheatly said they never heard about the funding formulas being problematic until Monday. Szoka said the legislation was drawn up in collaboration with various education associations, such as the North Carolina School Boards Association and the N.C. School Superintendents Association.

He asked Ruben Reyes, associate superintendent for human resources, if he had a proposed formula. Reyes responded he did not but would get a proposed formula to the delegation.

In other matters, County Manager Amy Cannon said the county in its upcoming budget  includes $258,000 for the first phase of a plan to extend safe drinking water to the Gray’s Creek community, including Alderman Road and Gray’s Creek elementary schools. The two schools have been using bottled water since 2017 due to concerns regarding the presence of Gen-X in the groundwater. The $258,000 will pay for N.C. Department of Transportation rights-of-way and encroachment properties, and preliminary engineering costs.

Cannon said the county originally estimated it would cost $65 million to extend water to the area. She said $9 million would come from the county’s capital investment fund, $10 million from the county’s American Rescue Plan Act fund allocation, and $15 million from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.

 The board asked state lawmakers for help in securing the remaining $30 million for the water system.

Richardson asked if the county had considered establishing its own countywide water system.

“Let’s get beyond that crazy line,” Richardson said, referring to the Fayetteville city limits line, which hinders the Fayetteville Public Works Commission from freely extending water and sewer services.

Cannon responded that it was not “financially feasible” for PWC to provide water to that area because it did not have the necessary population density. Board Chairman Glenn Adams said the county had been negotiating with PWC for months.

Adams also asked the delegation to consider any help in the future when the county begins its efforts to establish a passenger rail connection with Wake County. Adams said the county is not currently asking for money, but it wants the lawmakers to have the issue on their “radar.” 


Cumberland County, Board of Commissioners, Board of Education, legislative delegation, salaries, Gray's Creek water