DPS Board of Education approves 11% raises for staff, $300k severance for former superintendent

<p>A crowd of people gathered at a Feb. 5 Durham Association of Educators protest organized in support of DPS classified staff, who are facing pay cuts after the district accidentally overpaid them due to an accounting error.&nbsp;</p>

A crowd of people gathered at a Feb. 5 Durham Association of Educators protest organized in support of DPS classified staff, who are facing pay cuts after the district accidentally overpaid them due to an accounting error. 

The Durham Public Schools Board of Education met Thursday evening for its regularly scheduled monthly meeting, during which board members approved 11% raises for employees as an interim strategy to address the ongoing salary dispute.

Board members and community stakeholders gathered at the Minnie Forte-Brown Staff Development Center for the session, much of which was spent in a public comment period when DPS workers and supportive community members expressed their disappointment about the inadequacy of the two plans proposed by the board to amend classified staff salaries.

“The employees affected by this crisis have asked you time and again for you to pay them what you promised unless you can show them that you have no other option. You need to do that,” one parent said.

DPS provoked public outrage in January when it announced that at least 1,300 classified workers would have their recently-implemented raises revoked after an alleged payroll error led to mass overpayments. The following weeks were filled with protests, walk-outs and contentious board meetings as DPS teachers, staff, parents and supportive community members demanded answers from the district.

In addition to the 11% raises, the board also voted to restore all employee steps to their previous levels, counting years of experience out of district and in the private sector toward pay schedule distribution.

Salary action

Both plans to amend worker salaries involved eliminating the pay schedules suggested by the nearly $80,000 HIL Consultants Compensation Study, originally commissioned by the board in January 2023 to bring classified employees’ salaries up to market rates. They also entailed maintaining the one-to-one ratio between salary steps and years of experience previously used by the district, which has been a consistent demand of DPS workers.

However, one plan would implement an 11% raise above employees’ 2022-23 wages — using 4% state funds and 7% local funds — and the other would implement a total raise of 15% — using 11% of local funds in addition to the state-mandated 4%. The first plan could be achieved while remaining within the budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year, while the second plan would require an additional $2 million in funding. The first plan was ultimately chosen.

“Both options take hundreds of dollars out of my monthly check: hundreds of dollars that finally allowed me to afford medications that our health state plan does not cover, hundreds of dollars that made a difference towards my retirement,” one DPS employee said. “I feel utterly depleted and backed into a corner.”

Many speakers expressed their concerns about DPS recruitment and retention efforts in light of the controversy, worrying that the district’s staffing shortages would only worsen if salaries were further decreased.

“What will it look like when my coworkers are gone, and we’re each doing the job of two, three, four people?” one Riverside High School teacher asked.

She claimed that staff are leaving for three reasons: low salaries exacerbated by mid-year pay cuts, lack of support leaving staff overworked and uncertainty about future wages stemming from a consistent lack of transparency from administration.

Other teachers agreed that cutting salaries further would mean that DPS jobs would no longer be competitive, forcing employees to choose between supporting their families or working in the community they love. Still others criticized the board for drawing out a decision over weeks of meetings.

“I am disgusted and disappointed at the choice to prolong an issue that affects the lives of children,” one parent said.

Another parent called for the board’s members to resign in light of the debacle, expressing his frustration that multiple members are currently running for reelection — a move he labeled “tone deaf.”

Comptroller updates

The board then heard from Kerry Crutchfield, the independent comptroller tasked three weeks ago with investigating the miscommunication surrounding implementation of the HIL salary study.

He noted that while the study was a necessary undertaking that provided “excellent data” on market-based pay in Durham and translated that data into appropriate pay step classifications, it failed to include an implementation plan and an estimated cost of implementation.

One important takeaway Crutchfield presented was that the previous schedules used by DPS had step increments averaging 0.85%, while the new schedules had increments of 1.5%.

“That difference compounded over 30+ step schedules creates pay ranges approximately double the size of the previous pay ranges,” Crutchfield said. “It’s like trying to force a square peg into a round hole.”

Crutchfield explained that these large increases led to many employees being paid far above market rate, which was “not sustainable within the current DPS budget.”

He recommended that the board produce a new market-based implementation plan where employee pay increases are calculated by adding the legislated four percent increase to the new schedule’s pay grade minimums. Crutchfield expressed that the salary grades presented by the original HIL study were largely appropriate and could be implemented, but that there were a few “that expanded so much that they would exceed the state maximum pay,” and would have to be corrected.

Crutchfield also noted that this plan should be prospective as opposed to retrospective, should not require repayments and should be implemented at a date far enough out that employees can be notified of new pay amounts at least a month in advance.

The presentation moved on to interim-cost savings, and Crutchfield recommended that the board implement the 11% plan because its total implementation cost would be closer to the amount originally budgeted for. He also cautioned the board that pursuing a 15% increase might result in “significant pay decreases when a permanent plan is implemented.”

Crutchfield offered his services to the board for the design of a permanent implementation plan following these recommendations, which he estimated could be completed sometime in early March.

In addition to these actions to immediately address the salary issue, Crutchfield made a number of additional suggestions to improve the board’s efficacy going forward. These included requirements that all salary schedules be approved by the board, that all reclassifications be guided by board policy, and that the board formally approve any revised implementation plan and its effective date.

In terms of the upcoming academic year, Crutchfield recommended that the board soon approve a permanent set of schedules and an implementation plan to be effective by July 1, 2024, and that employees be notified of 2024-25 pay raises before the end of the school year.

“North Carolina school district business operations are among the most complex in the world,” Crutchfield said. “In three weeks, I promise you I have learned everything I can about Durham Public Schools, but it’s not nearly enough to make any overall recommendations on changes in processes and procedures.”

The comptroller said that he would “continue to work on that,” promising additional recommendations soon.

Board member Alexandra Valladares prompted Crutchfield to shed more light on what his future recommendations to the board might look like, adding that DPS employees and community members deserve trustworthy information in light of the recent miscommunication and administrative failures.

“They are looking to you to be a beacon of transparency and clarity that has been missing throughout this whole entire conversation, not because we want to be folks who want to withhold information … but there are so many moving parts,” Valladares said. “They deserve this much. We blew it.”

Crutchfield responded that he is a “numbers person … not a politician” and that he intends to “share everything that I learn with this board.”

In other news

The board also approved a budget amendment that would appropriate funds from the district’s fund balance — what Valladares referred to as a “rainy day fund” — for the purpose of the $300,000 severance payment to former superintendent Pascal Mubenga.

In response to a question from Valladares about the minimum fund balance required to be maintained, interim Chief Financial Officer Cierra Ojijo expressed that “there is no minimum amount” and that the district instead operates based on “best practice.”

The board is in the process of completing a budget audit, which Ojijo noted is on track to be completed by the end of March.

Mubenga resigned in a special session on Feb. 7 following weeks of employee unrest in the wake of significant miscommunication and fiscal irresponsibility. He was succeeded first by DPS Deputy Superintendent Nicholas King until Catty Moore, who previously served as superintendent of Wake County Public Schools, was named interim superintendent on Feb. 8.

“I always knew DPS was a special place, but if I thought I knew that before the last couple of weeks, I clearly get that message and know it now even better,” Moore said during the meeting. 

Moore also took time to commend the “quick thinking” of DPS transportation worker Deona Washington, who safely evacuated 28 students when their bus caught fire on Feb. 16.

“Her heroic efforts kept students safe,” Moore said. “We cannot thank her enough for what she did that afternoon.”

The board also celebrated a number of students, faculty and staff for “outstanding accomplishments” during January and February. Chastity Adams, Nancy Uvalle and Cameron Daniels were recognized as students; Latisha Johnson and Morgan Cheek as teachers; and Aniyah Baugh and Jason Redmond as employees.

“The individuals honored this evening epitomize the limited potential within all of our DPS schools,” said Sheena Cooper, senior executive director of public affairs for DPS. “We applaud these students and educators for their well-deserved achievements and for the example they set for our district.”

Zoe Kolenovsky profile
Zoe Kolenovsky | News Editor

Zoe Kolenovsky is a Trinity junior and news editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.


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