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Our view: A $16 million mistake
Our view

Our view: A $16 million mistake

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It was a big mistake. A bone-headed move. Idiot Hall of Fame stuff.

But it wasn’t malicious. And there are bigger fish to fry.

After Winston-Salem/Forsyth County teachers and other certified employees were told in December to expect a $16 million supplement, we learned late last week that no, this wouldn’t be the case after all. Someone — it’s probably best that we don’t have a name — made a mistake. It was a calculating error. He or she moved a decimal point the wrong way or read a “4” as a “9” or something. As a result, the supplement will be significantly smaller than expected.

The precise amount isn’t yet known — we should learn that at a school board meeting Tuesday night — but for first-year teachers, the pay supplement will be closer to $1,800 than $8,200, as some expected.


Teachers and their supporters are understandably angered.

“They are visibly and vocally upset,” Tripp Jeffers, a history and philosophy teacher at Parkland High School, told the Journal’s John Hinton. “It’s been a while since teachers have been given a reasonable pay raise.”

They have every right to be. Our teachers have to contend with lower-than-average pay, unbearable work loads, disrespect from some who regard them as glorified babysitters — or worse, enemies — possible gun violence, COVID protocols that can endanger their health even as they seem to shift from day to day and a state legislature that regularly short-changes them. Now it seems as if a promise is being broken.

School board members were also understandably upset.

“It’s a complete embarrassment for the district and for this board,” school board member Dana Caudill Jones told the Journal. “Obviously, it looks like we are not being good stewards of the dollars that we have.”

But if there’s any lesson that both teachers and parents agree on, it’s that life isn’t fair. Mistakes happen and they can happen to anyone. Even NASA crashed a $125 million Mars probe in 1999 after forgetting to convert some measurements from English to metric.

And, as school board member Andrea Bramer said, the situation involved an error, not fraud.

We have no doubt that the person behind the error feels properly guilty, like most of us would — and, school officials assure us, has been appropriately punished. Further anger directed at that individual won’t help.

It probably won’t help to look at the bright side, either, but let’s try.

There will be a supplement. The school board has been hard at work trying to increase it further after learning about the error last week.

And steps have already been taken to prevent such a fubar in the future. “I think it is important everyone knows that our staff began working to correct it just as soon as it was discovered,” school board chairwoman Deanna Kaplan told the Journal. “That has led to some reorganization and some new checks and balances.”

On top of that, school superintendent Tricia McManus, as well as school board members, have taken responsibility rather than make excuses, as some would.

“I join our finance and human resources teams in sincerely apologizing for the mistake,” McManus said in a message Thursday, “and I regret the formula error was not captured before the salary schedules were made public.”

“The buck stops with the Board of Education,” school board member Alex Bohannon said. “We all have to take responsibility for the error and move forward.”

That counts for something.

However the meeting goes Tuesday night, we hope educators and their supporters remember that the school board is on their side. They have a joint mission to provide students with every resource they can.

For those who still need to point a finger, the Republican-led legislature would be a good target. Its members have set the state’s education budget so low that local school officials are left scrambling to attract and retain talented educators.

The legislature’s recent refusal to obey a court order to fund the Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan, which would add $5.6 billion to education funding through 2028, shows that they have little respect for the rule of law — you may need those courts someday, friends — and little to none for educators. Until that picture changes, local school supporters will have to fight on behalf of our educators.

Fortunately, they’re good and determined.


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