The Transylvania Times -

By John Lanier
Editor 

School Board Concerned About Teacher Supplements

 

Last updated 5/6/2021 at 9:47am



On Monday evening, members of the Transylvania County Board of Education expressed disappointment and concern that no money for increasing teaching supplements has been included in the county budget proposed by County Manager Jaime Laughter.

The Board of Education had requested an increase in local current expenses of $763,122. The county manager’s proposed budget includes an increase of $57,549, with another $104,543 to be held in reserve to meet a potential 2 percent increase in state salaries for teachers.

Teachers who are paid out of local funds must receive the same salary and benefits as those paid with state funds.

Norris Barger, director of business services and plant operations for the school system, said he had projected a 5 percent salary increase by the state for teachers, which would require an increase of $261,358 in local funds to match the state increase.

“Obviously, we don’t know what that actual amount is going to be, but that’s something that we need to consider if those pay raises are more than 2 percent,” said Barger.

The proposed county budget also includes money to cover increases in health insurance ($6,499) and retirement ($19,032), which are mandated by the state, as well as $32,018 for school resource officers (SROs).

Barger said the additional $32,000 for the SROs is a “wash” because the school system would receive the money but then would write a check back to the county for that amount.

Additional expenses that were requested by the school board but are not in the proposed county budget are: $15,776 to restore the school system’s fund balance; $98,486 to restore cuts to instructional supplies; $23,700 for security at athletic events since comp time is no longer allowed; $35,000 for mobile phone service due to cuts in the e-rate provided by the federal government; $87,384 to keep the local teacher supplement at 8.5 percent (9 percent for teachers with 25 or more years of experience) if the state raises base salaries by 5 percent; and $215,887 to increase the local teacher supplement to 9.5 percent (10 percent for teachers with 25 or more years of experience).

“The one that concerns me probably the most is the certified supplement increase to cover pay increases. That’s the amount of money ($87,384) it would take just to keep the supplement where it is today based on (state) pay increases,” said Barger.

Barger said the more the state increases teacher salaries, the more it costs the county just to keep the teacher supplement at its current rate.

“Why does she (Laughter) want to cut our teachers pay?” asked board member Marty Griffin. “All we’ve heard from people across the state and country is how important teachers have been during this time – being in school, working at home, doing more work than most of us could even imagine.

“Why would she want to cut the most important part of the Transylvania County school system? The schools don’t operate without teachers, bottom line. What was the explanation for that or was there an explanation?”

“I can’t answer that question, Mr. Griffin,” said Barger.

Board Chair Tawny McCoy said she had sent an email to Transylvania County Board of Commissioners Chair Jason Chappell informing him that they would need that money just to keep teacher supplements at their current rate.

She also informed Chappell that if the state raise is more than 2 percent, the school system “would have to be coming back to them for that additional money” to pay locally-funded teachers the state salary, as well as additional money to maintain the current supplement rate.

Superintendent Jeff McDaris said if the state increases salaries just 2 percent, the school system would need another $34,900 increase just to maintain the current supplement rate at 8.5 percent.

School Board Attorney Chris Campbell said the choices, according to the law, are pretty straightforward when it comes to matching state pay increases.

“Either the county funds it, we come up with it some other way, or we have to reduce that supplement because of the lack of funds,” said Campbell. “That’s not a legal issue. That’s a political issue.”

“The worst case scenario would be the (school) board would have to look at reducing the supplement amount across the board because the board wasn’t provided with sufficient funds to cover those increases,” said Campbell.

“I hope the commissioners will reconsider a number of these items at their meeting on Monday afternoon,” said Vice Chair Ron Kiviniemi. “I am distressed that the (county) manager has only recommended less than one half of one percent (0.45 percent) increase in budgeted funds for us in a year in which their sales tax revenue exceeded their expectations, in which they added, again, I believe, a million dollars or more to the fund balance.”

He added the county has already collected to date $12 million based on the 10.5-cent tax increase that the voters approved to pay off the school bonds.

“I do not think that our budget requests were unreasonable, and I think they should be fully funded,” said Kiviniemi.

Griffin said it’s ironic that the county made money during the pandemic but does not want to allocate more money to the schools, which played a role in keeping the local economy going.

“They all said one of the most important parts of us getting through this pandemic and making our economy better was having kids in the schools,” said Griffin.

Board member Kimsey Jackson agreed with Kiviniemi about the county receiving revenue from the 10.5-cent tax increase that has been in effect for two years.

“I have not been happy about that at all,” said Jackson. “At the very least, that money should have been somewhere in an interest bearing account of some kind making money because that specifically was put in place for the school board when they passed that 10.5 cents.”

“My understanding is this year, meaning tax year 2020, that they’ve used that money for other things,” said Jackson.

He added that the $6 million from 2019 is somewhere in an account, but it was not invested in any way.

“To me, that’s very bad,” said Jackson.

He said the school board cannot pay locally funded teachers less than the state and that a local supplement has been paid for years.

“Certainly the teachers are expecting it at this point, and it’s kind of a promise, at this point, that they get that,” said Jackson. “Whether we increase the supplement or not is another discussion.”

“It is in the nature of a non-discretionary increase, and I think that’s important to remember,” said Campbell. “Once a county agrees to provide a supplement for school teachers in their county, they know there are going to be increases to their pay and there will be corresponding increases to the supplement. So this is very much like health insurance or retirement. These are hard costs that are owed to the teachers.”

“It’s not something that the board wishes it could do. It’s something the board has a legal obligation to do, and the county knows that,” said Campbell.

Jackson said it might be appropriate for McCoy or Kiviniemi and Barger to meet with with Chappell, Laughter and the county finance director to discuss the issue prior to Monday’s meeting.

“I suspect that the increase in the supplement is gone for this year, but the rest of it, I think we have a good case,” said Jackson. “We need this. It’s got to be.”

“It’s ironic that we are talking about this during Teacher Appreciation Week,” said board member Courtney Domokur.

Domokur said it was also “disheartening” that the proposed county budget does not include any of the $98,485 that was requested for instructional supplies.

“I just want to stress how much money teachers spend in their classrooms every single year,” said Domokur.

“It’s not good,” said Jackson. “My wife was a teacher. I can’t tell you how many dollars we spent on supplies. I’m not in favor of cutting that.”

Domokur said they have to find a way to keep the teacher supplement at its current rate.

“Again, I just think that it’s ironic that when we’re out there as board members, as parents, as community members, saying ‘thank you’ to our teachers for everything that they’re doing this year, and to our principals, and then we’re having this conversation tonight – it’s a hard conversation to have,” said Domokur.

“The words ‘thank you’ do not put food on the table, gas in your car, make your house payments. That’s where you show appreciation, when you put the money where your mouth is,” said Griffin.

“I understand your frustration completely,” said McCoy. “We’re going to make this happen.”

McCoy reiterated that she has already reached out to Chappell about the raises and supplement and she would be “more than happy” to reach out to Chappell to have a meeting so that the commissioners understand the school board’s concerns.

Jackson said the school board could look at other items in the budget in which not all the allotted money was spent in past years and those items could be cut instead.

“I can see a mass exodus if we were to not pay the supplement or something like that,” said Jackson.

“Nobody is saying that teachers need to anticipate any kind of cut in the supplement,” said McCoy.

McCoy said she would contact Chappell Tuesday morning to set up a meeting to discuss maintaining the current supplement rate and other budgetary concerns.

 
 

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