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School board discusses budget priorities for fiscal 2022-23

Members say they would like a minimum starting teacher salary of $50,000 and a minimum wage of $15 an hour for bus drivers and other staff.


The Cumberland County Board of Education on Tuesday morning discussed budget priorities for fiscal 2022-23, including a proposal of a minimum starting salary of $50,000 a year for teachers and a minimum wage beginning at $15 an hour for bus drivers and other staff.

The board met during a special budget planning work session at the Educational Resource Center on Elementary Drive.

Those proposals are among six items that have been submitted for inclusion in the 2022-23 budget.

With the discussion completed, the board will pass on its information and recommendations to its Finance Committee, which is scheduled to meet Thursday along with the Curriculum and Personnel committees.

The money needed to meet these proposed salary goals might require a property tax increase by the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners.

“It’s $10 million just to bring the salary up to $15 an hour,” Superintendent Marvin Connelly Jr. said. “It’s really more than $10 million. That’s the compression part.”

Wage compression occurs when newly hired, less experienced employees earn closer to what current employees make.

Clyde Locklear Jr., the school system’s associate superintendent for business operations, said staff was working to get hard numbers on what it will take to reach those desired salary expectations.

With wage compression, it’s probably more in the neighborhood of $6 million, according to Ruben Reyes. He’s the Cumberland County Schools' associate superintendent for human resources.

“Are we looking at this being – asking the county commissioners for $10 million,’’ board member Susan Williams asked.

“I do believe it will be less than that – $10 million,” Reyes replied. “We’re trying to get some of the cost to the board.”

Connelly noted how Hardee’s and McDonald’s restaurants pay $15 an hour in starting pay to their employees. “I don’t see how not to ask for $15 an hour,” he said.

To reach the $15 an hour, state and local supplements will be necessary, Reyes said.

“I think there will be support for $15 an hour,” board member Charles McKellar said.

A discussion followed about perhaps taking money from the Board of Education’s fund balance.

“The fund balance money is there,” Locklear said. “That’s what it’s there for. There are multiple things the fund balance does for a district.”

Connelly said the school system was able “to grow the fund balance due to lower costs in 2021. During the pandemic, the buses weren’t running. Those were additional revenues for the fund balance.”

Board member Alicia Chisolm said that money is needed for emergency situations such as after a hurricane when there is damage to school property.

“You don’t spend the fund balance and take money out every year. That money was there with the hurricane,” she said.

Williams said, “I’m confident they would move forward with that. We need those monies. Seems to me they would recognize this is a continuing funding source.”

The board then talked about a possible budget agreement with the county.

“I think over the last 10 years we’ve had three major events where we pulled from the fund balance,” McKellar said. “One of the things we’ve been criticized for is pulling money from the fund balance.”

Locklear said the fund balance is an option for a one-time expense.

As for starting salaries of $50,000 a year for Cumberland County teachers, Locklear said, they would need to add a local supplement of about $15,000 for beginning instructors to reach the desired $50,000 a year salary.

Connelly said schools do not pay for personnel; the district pays them.

Locklear estimated that the cost to the system to provide all of its teachers with at least a starting salary of $50,000 would be $65 million.

“That would require us to do that as a local supplement for teacher salaries,” he said.

With the supplement, Reyes said, the average teacher’s annual salary would be about $51,500.

McKellar said the system needs to be more competitive in bringing in qualified teachers.

“Thirty-five thousand a year is not competitive,” he said.

Though Connelly again estimated the cost at about $65 million to pull off the increase to beginning teachers, Locklear said it would require a 30% adjustment: “This would be locally funded. We’re looking at $75 million when you’re looking at those costs. There would probably be $80 million to fund this.”

The only way to raise the money would be through increasing the property tax rate of 79.9 cents per $100 valuation, board Chairman Greg West said.

“They have never shown any interest” in increasing the tax rate beyond 79.9 cents, he said of the  county Board of Commissioners. In this case, he said, the tax rate would need to be raised to above $1.15 per $100 valuation.

“Are you going to fight for the $15 piece or the $50,000 piece?” West said.

McKellar said the board should make its case to the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners and let that body make the ultimate decision.

The Finance, Curriculum and Personnel committees will hold meetings starting at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at the Educational Resource Center.

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.

Cumberland County, Board of Education, budget, teacher salaries, minimum wage, tax rate