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Tone deaf pay raise proposal for school administrators falls flat
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Tone deaf pay raise proposal for school administrators falls flat

Only $5 for 5 months

Not that it came as any sort of seismic shock, but word that the finance committee of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education was backing a $2,000 raise for teachers was nonetheless welcome.

And it wasn’t just limited to teachers. The finance panel also voted Monday to support raises for certified support personnel and classified employees — counselors who help first-graders crying because mom’s been on a three-day bender and staff who scramble every week to make sure fourth-graders eat.

You know, the people who actually do the work, not those who sit in climate-controlled offices pushing paper and gumming problems to death.

Meanwhile, a proposal to lard administrators already earning six figure salaries seems to be dying a slow death as that same finance committee ignored the plan like a radioactive lava lamp.

A victory, no matter how small, worth celebrating.

Perennial issue

As with many things involving government — particularly schools — parsing out the issue of pay raises can be difficult.

But we’ll give it a shot.

Teacher pay, as you might be aware, is a perennial issue. Most of us would agree they’re not paid enough and certainly not what they’re worth.

Politicians of all stripes seem to agree as well. Teacher salaries (and class size) becomes a hot-button issue every election cycle; not backing a pay raise for someone who’s buying students paper and pencils — and sometimes shoes and shirts — is political suicide just short of being filmed kicking a puppy.

But what they do about it once the ballots are counted is another matter entirely.

Here in Forsyth County, voters took matters into their own hands earlier this year by passing a 1/4 cent sales tax increase that county commissioners pinky-swore would be spent only to boost local supplements paid to classroom educators.

That increase, the equivalent of a quarter on every $100 purchase, was estimated to generate some $13 million annually that was expected to be paid out in supplemental pay increases of between $2,000 and $3,000.

If and when that comes to pass, teachers in Forsyth County who had been collecting in 2018-19 supplements averaging $4,251 would approach parity with colleagues in other large urban counties: Durham ($7,005), Mecklenburg ($8,101) and Wake ($8,270).

That’s good, right?

Especially in a time when teachers scramble with the vagaries and inequalities of online learning and very real fears of COVID transmission once in-person learning cranks back up.

Fast-forward six months to last week when school salaries crept back into the headlines. That’s when news that the local school administration, led by Superintendent Angela Hairston, decided it was time to talk about boosting the salaries of some of the district’s highest earners.

Talk about a pair of tin ears being supplemented perfectly by willful blindness.

Not worth mentioning

The Hairston Plan — let’s just call it what it is — would have boosted by as much as $30,000 the starting pay for a deputy superintendent (up to $165,000), a school lawyer (up to $150,000) and $20,000 for the assistant superintendent, chief academic officer, chief financial officer and chief human resource officer (up to $140,000).

Think you could make ends meet on an existing $120K or $135K?

Hairston argued that the increases were needed to attract top talent and to restore balance.

She may have a point, but when classroom teachers are struggling to adapt to a rapidly changing (and potentially dangerous) environment and county commissioners are totting up shortfalls in tax revenue is the exact wrong time to raise it.

(I would have asked her, but Hairston made abundantly clear late last month that she doesn’t answer to the little people. “Please contact Brent Campbell (chief communications officer) with questions or requests,” she wrote in response to a question about standardized testing.)

Thank goodness school board members who sit on the finance committee don’t share the same tin-ear affliction.

First they tabled last week the proposal to bump administrators’ pay. And they didn’t even mention it Monday when discussing supporting that modest bump for people who work for a living.

“It troubles me deeply that those struggling to meet basic needs are told to wait and those who have resources to really meet their needs are put as a priority, and that just troubles me to the core,” said board member Elisabeth Motsinger.

Tabling that plan, even temporarily, is a victory well worth celebrating. Even if the person who pressed it loudest failed to see (or hear) that now was not the time to raise it.



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