NEW HANOVER COUNTY –– Through the passing of the upcoming county budget, teachers in New Hanover County Schools would become the highest paid in North Carolina.
The $22.6 million allocated toward local salary supplements would nearly double the current average supplement to $9,000 and raise the district’s ranking in teacher pay from the 27th to the top slot in the state, according to statewide data from the 2020-21 school year. Currently, Wake County Schools offers the highest supplements at an average of $8,873, followed closely behind by Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
“It’s a very happy day for me,” Board of Commissioners Chair Julia Olson-Boseman said after Monday’s budget presentation. “I’ve been fighting for teacher pay for –– I don’t know how long.”
The bulk of a teacher’s salary is paid for via state funds. This year, a first-year teacher in New Hanover County earned $33,000 in state funds. Supplements from the county averaged $4,183.
New Hanover County Manager Chris Coudriet said the board’s commitment to education “defines” the recommended budget for fiscal year 2021-22. $121.5 million is proposed for the K-12 system, an increase of about $9 million from the current fiscal year, or roughly 8%.
The drafted budget includes $3,434 per student, a $527 boost from the current rate of $2,907. The per-pupil expenditure would place the county in the third or fourth rank, out of 115 school systems, for in-classrooms support, Coudriet highlighted.
“We are going to exceed expectations because of the support that you have been putting behind us,” New Hanover County Schools Board of Education Chair Stefanie Adams told commissioners. “Our teachers, they are the best in the state, and with the funding and the student [expenditures] and the supplement that you are providing, we are expecting to not only keep the best teachers but also to recruit more to our area.”
The proposed budget plans for an assumed 26,796 students in New Hanover County. Coudriet noted the school district’s and charter schools’ student population have stayed largely consistent in recent years, despite the county growing at a rate of 66%. Most new residents represent older demographics rather than families with young children. Still, county staff is recommending the board anticipate tacking on contributions for incoming students.
The draft budget sets aside $3.7 million for capital projects, such as renovations or expansions of buildings. That amount is nearly double the budgeting of the current year and is in addition to $25 million earmarked for repaying debt from past projects.
Just over $166,000 is assigned to teacher incentives, outside of supplements. The county is encouraging teachers to pursue National Board Certification, as well as a program that trains educators on teaching early reading.
Some of the incentive money also will go toward Workforce Housing Gap Rental Assistance, rental subsidies for educators in hard-to-staff schools who live in or near the district where they teach.
The proposed budget also allocates $974,844 to double the number of pre-K classrooms from three to six.
Superintendent Dr. Charles Foust indicated the generous funding should accelerate growth in every school. More than 30% of the county’s proposed budget for this coming fiscal year is dedicated to the K-12 system, and nearly 40% of the $382-million general fund is allocated toward overall public education, including charter schools and Cape Fear Community College.
“Everything that’s here is pointed in the right direction,” said Foust, who joined the district as superintendent in September 2020. “We’ve just not held one another accountable for it, and we have to put accountability measures in place that show that what we are offering is top notch. If we’re asking to be the best, we have to make sure that what we are presenting to our parents, presenting to our teachers, presenting to our communities is the best. It’s not just lip service.”
The elected officials applauded the collaboration of the “new board” that led to the upswing in education funding.
The unity of the board was celebrated late last year just as two new elected members were sworn into office. In the same Dec. 7, 2020 meeting, the county approved $750 holiday bonuses for all 3,400 school district employees as a reward for working through the pandemic. The board of education matched the bonuses the next day.
“A lot of boards of education across our state will tell you the hardest job they have is saying, ‘Please, please, please,’” vice chair Nelson Beaulieu said. “For the last six months, I’ve had the privilege of saying, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you’ . . . I’m going to make sure that every citizen in New Hanover County knows that you are dedicated to our school system. You are the best friends that our students and teachers have.”
Overall, North Carolina ranks 33rd in teacher pay in the nation, according to the National Education Association. It dropped down the ranking recently after teachers did not receive raises in the N.C. General Assembly for a second year in a row.
Members of the public have the opportunity to speak on the recommended budget during a hearing 4 p.m. Monday, June 7, at the NHC Board of Commissioners meeting, held in the Assembly Room of the New Hanover County Courthouse on North Third Street.
This article has been updated to include statistics on local salary supplements from North Carolina Public Schools.
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