In a joint meeting Tuesday, the New Hanover County Board of Education and Board of Commissioners continued the conversation of addressing a demand for raises from teaching assistants in the district.
Following the approval of the state’s budget, teaching assistants and other non-certified staff in the school district will make a minimum wage of $15 per hour in the next two years. Before that decision, teachers' aides were making an average of $14.88 an hour in New Hanover County, or around $25,000 a year.
But some elected officials said the raise still wasn’t enough to adequately support staff in New Hanover County Schools.
“For me, $15 an hour is not it,” said Commissioner Jonathan Barfield. “We’re doing good but at the same time we still have a ways to go.”
Teaching assistants began raising concerns about pay during recent school board meetings after certified staff, like teachers, received an increase to their pay over the summer. The board also approved increased pay for substitute teachers and stipends for teachers covering classes during their planning time.
Dozens of teachers and teaching assistants came to the November regular board meeting, asking the board to increase teaching assistant pay to a minimum $17 an hour. For some, that would still be less than the hourly wage at their second job. Several pointed out that businesses like Costco pay as much as $20 an hour, and high school students are often making more to work at a car wash than teaching assistants with a bachelor’s degree.
School board members Stephanie Walker and Judy Justice said the county needs to prioritize finding ways to keep those staff members in the district and avoid them leaving for better-paying jobs.
“They’re adamant that they don’t want to leave, and that says something about them,” Justice said. “These people love what they do. They want to stay, but they have to feed their families. They have to pay rent.”
Other elected officials, like commissioner Bill Rivenbark, raised concerns about a lack of funding to solve every problem constituents bring forward. He said a raise for teaching assistants could mean future asks for raises from other schools staff like bus drivers or custodians, and the county simply does not have to allocate at this time.
Teaching assistants will receive a bonus of $1,000 from the district through COVID-19 relief funds. Board of Commissioners Vice Chairwoman Deb Hays suggested using some of the COVID-19 relief money to fund an initial pay raise, but Superintendent Charles Foust said because the funds are not recurring, that would be much riskier than providing a one-time bonus.
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The joint meeting between the commissioners and school board members was set as a discussion that covered several topics important to the school district, also including conversations on mental health services and repairs being made to Brogden Hall. No action was taken on the issues discussed.
School board member Nelson Beaulieu said while the officials could not create a solution for teaching assistant pay in one short discussion, he was appreciative of the county commissioners for being open to carrying on the conversation.
“We can’t solve every problem, but I think it’s important we acknowledge every problem so I’m really grateful for just this 10 minute discussion,” Beaulieu said. “Thank you very much for giving this issue the attention it deserves.”
Reporter Sydney Hoover can be reached at 910-343-2339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Wilmington StarNews: New Hanover teaching aid pay discussions continue in joint meeting