Teachers, school administrators and school board members showed support on Thursday for a sales-tax increase to boost teacher pay, joined by other citizens who said education should be a top priority.
If the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners puts the issue on the ballot in a March referendum, voters will decide whether to allow the increase of one-fourth of a cent on the sales-tax rate. The money would be used to raise salary supplements for teachers.
“It is not what the teachers deserve to be paid, but it is a step in the right direction,” Winston-Salem resident Woody Clinard said during the public hearing held by the county board Thursday afternoon.
The current sales tax rate is 6.75%. With the increase, if voters approve, the rate would rise to 7% effective in July 2020.
Commissioners will decide on Sept. 26 whether to put the quarter-cent sales-tax increase before the voters. Although law forbids the board from designating the money raised by the tax for education, commissioners have made it clear that is what the money would be spent for.
Voters were asked to approve an identical tax increase in 2018 and said no: With some 130,000 people voting, county residents rejected the tax increase by a two-to-one margin.
Angela Pringle Hairston, the new superintendent of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, spoke in favor of the increase. So did Malishai Woodbury, the chairwoman of the school board. So did school board members Elisabeth Motsinger and Lida Calvert-Hayes. In the audience to show support were school board vice-chairwoman Barbara Burke and member Leah Crowley.
Teaching assistant Ann Spain talked about the challenges of teaching a class where most of the children have English as a second language, and showed commissioners her pay stub of $554.38 for a month’s work.
“I am fortunate to have ... a husband in full retirement,” she said. “I am worth more than $554.38.”
More than one speaker appealed for the pay boosts, if approved by voters, to also apply to non-teaching employees at the schools — the people who drive buses, for instance, or those who prepare meals. They’re known as “classified” employees, in schools lingo.
“We cannot continue to ignore them,” said Ronda Mays, a former president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators. “It can’t be zero (increase) for classified. Our district cannot run at all without classified employees.”
Allen Daniel of Clemmons, the only dissenting speaker on the sales-tax increase, said he is pro-education but that a sales tax is a bad way to raise the money.
“It is the most regressive of local taxes,” Daniel said. “It affects the rich and poor alike for every dollar spent. For the past number of years, this board has not funded the schools to allow them to keep pace with other systems in the state.”
The school system has a goal of getting the system into the top five systems in the state for the amount of supplements teachers earn. That would take $12 million in new money, officials say.
County officials said Thursday that a quarter-cent increase should bring in $13 million, enough to provide the $12 million with another $1 million left over for other educational needs.
Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt cautioned that if a recession hits, the amount of money raised by the quarter cent could be hit also.
“I want to make the point that in some years it may not produce that $12 million,” she said.