The Forsyth County commissioners’ recent approval of additional teacher-salary supplements comes with a requirement that is drawing concerns from at least one member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education.

The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners approved $3.7 million in teacher-salary supplements in the county’s 2019-2020 budget, the equivalent of a 1-cent property tax rate increase, with some strings attached.

Although the supplements will go into effect July 1, the county will withhold the money until the school board provides a supplement schedule to the county commissioners “that will serve as a guide in helping the school system make progress in achieving their goal of having a teacher supplement that is in the top five teacher supplements in North Carolina.”

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board member Lori Goins Clark said she is thankful that the county commissioners understand that the school district has a big need in terms of funds.

But she said that it has been difficult getting full information on supplement schedules from different school districts.

“Yet the county commissioners have imposed upon us a need to know exact amounts from other districts, especially the top six in the state, before they will release that $3.7 million that the tax increase is going to net us before they are going to give that to us,” Clark said.

She said the school district will try to get all the information required but she doesn’t think it’s a fair requirement.

“It will help us enhance our knowledge of where we are in the state, but I’m struggling to understand,” Clark said.

Ronda Mays, president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators, said association members are concerned about the county commissioners’ requirement.

“Who is going to determine that it meets this undefined expectation?” Mays said.

She also said that association members are pleased with the money put in the county’s upcoming budget for teacher-salary supplements, but they had hoped there would be money given to classified employees, including cafeteria workers, bus drivers, teacher assistants, data managers and administrative assistants.

“We had asked for a cost-of-living increase for our classified personnel,” Mays said.

Malishai Woodbury, the school board’s chairwoman, and Barbara Burke, the school board’s vice-chairwoman could not be reached for comment.

School board member Deanna Kaplan said, “The school board and our teachers appreciate the funds.”

‘Just ask’ and rankings

Prior to the budget process for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, county commissioners told the school district to “just ask” for funds to increase teacher pay. Last fall, several people demanded in social media posts and at school board meetings that the district #JustAsk for the additional funds.

Although there was no additional supplemental pay for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, the school district gave each teacher a one-time bonus of $300 from its fund balance.

During the recent budget process for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, the school district requested $15.7 million from the county commissioners for teacher supplements to help bring the district in the top ranks of the state in teacher pay.

Kenneth Simington, the school system’s interim superintendent, said that the school district doesn’t ask for additional teacher supplements every year.

But, he said, “What became clear is that we had lost a competitive edge amongst our urban counterparts, so having an increased supplement allows us to recruit and retain teachers who are obviously looking to get the best salary that they can.”

Last summer, the school system ranked 26th in the state for average teacher supplement, based on the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s website, but most recent data shows a slight rise to the No. 20 ranking.

Teachers are state employees. In addition to their state salaries, teachers receive a local salary-supplement.

According to the current WS/FCS 2018-2019 Basic Teacher Salary Schedules, teachers with a bachelor’s degree in their first year get $3,500 a month in base salary from the state along with the current local supplement of $260.

But teachers in their 39th year with a bachelor’s degree receive $5,200 a month in base salary pay from the state plus a local supplement pay of $772.

Monthly salaries increase for a master’s degree and additional money is added a month for an advanced teaching license or a doctorate teaching license.

The county commissioners hope to put a quarter-cent sales-tax increase on the ballot in 2020 to help pay for teacher supplements.

The N.C. Association of County Commissioners estimates that a quarter-cent sales-tax increase would generate about $13 million in the first full year, based on the most recent year that data is available.

Supplement schedules

Clark said that the school district supplement schedule is complicated.

“Every year of experience for a teacher nets a different supplement amount,” Clark said.

She said that the school district’s Formula Review Committee started getting information from other school districts across the state in summer 2018.

“We had the goal in mind of not just getting into the top five (districts) as far as rankings so that we could once again be a district that attracted teachers, but we wanted to make the schedule itself easier to understand and less complicated so that when a new teacher comes into the district or is looking at the district our HR (human resources) people could say, ‘Here’s what your local supplement dollar bonus amount will be.”

Clark said that through the process members of the committee learned that districts do things differently.

“Some districts pay their teachers a percentage of their salary as their supplement,” Clark said. “Some districts do a fixed amount supplement for years of service.”

She said that sometimes districts were not forthcoming with the information the committee requested of them.

“There’s sort of an unspoken competition across the state,” Clark said. “All districts know that teachers will look at a supplement pay before they come to a district.”

In addition to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s statistics on local salary supplements from school districts around the state, the N.C. Association of County Commissioners also puts out a ranking of teacher supplements from throughout the state.

Clark also talked about the school funding formula that the county uses to determine the school district’s allocation in each fiscal year’s budget.

“We know that other districts are also looking at their supplement so we know that it’s going to change year-to-year, so we’ve got to build into the funding formula a way to increase our funding for the supplements year-to-year to protect ourselves from the competition,” she said.

She also said she looks forward to discussions on the school funding formula to better serve the needs that the school district can’t meet.

“It has to be a partnership,” Clark said.

Forsyth County Commissioner Don Martin made the initial proposal that funds not be allocated until the school board approved a new supplement schedule that is based on an analysis of supplement schedules of the top paying school districts.

“If you want to be fifth in the state, how do you know that you will be fifth in the state?” Martin said. “One of the big issues is that the older your staff is obviously you’re going to be paying more money in supplements.”

He added that the majority of school districts base their supplements on experience and some on percentages.

“To evaluate whether you are fifth or not, you have to apply the staff here to the top supplement schedules,” Martin said. “They can identify the supplement schedules that have the highest average supplement, but they may not end up being the highest average when you apply the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools’ staff.”

He said that once the school district determines the amount it wants to spend on supplements it needs to figure out if it wants to restructure its steps, which is the equivalent of the various years of experience, so that it rewards experience or inexperience.

“In other words, are we trying to attract new people or are we trying to hang on to the older, more experienced people?” Martin said.

He said the starkest difference in terms of school districts he is aware of is between Guilford County Schools and WS/FCS.

He said that Guilford County Schools pays a much higher supplement the first 15 years. Then from year 15 up to year 30, WS/FCS pays a higher supplement.

“So if you’re a teacher who wants to make your most money, you go work 15 years in Guilford then come over to Forsyth and work 15 years,” Martin said.

Martin said that the information on some school district schedules might not be readily available, but he believes the local school district can get the information, at least on the top 10 districts.

Simington said that the school district will contact school districts individually and ask for their salary schedules.

“I am pleased that the county commissioners have supported teachers with the supplement,” Simington said. “We’ll do all we can to get this information.” 336-727-7366 @fdanielWSJ

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