Thursday, February 9, 2023

Pender County Schools increases fees for afterschool program to offset state-required wage raise

The Pender County School System has placed several schools on a code-red lockdown (Port City Daily photo/File)
Pender County Schools Board of Education approved a wage increase for PACES instructors, as required by the state, and will increase fees to support it. (Port City Daily/File)

PENDER COUNTY — Pender County Schools’ fee-based afterschool program is instituting its first hike in six years. The markup will help offset state-required wage increases for instructors.

Pender After School Care Enrichment Services (PACES) is raising its weekly enrollment fees from $45 to $60, as approved Tuesday by Pender County Schools Board of Education. The boost will help PACES meet North Carolina’s new education pay requirements, approved in the state budget last month.

PACES’ assistant instructors will see wages go from $11.92 to $15 per hour. The $3.08 raise for PACES’ directors inflates their current rate of $17.10 per hour to $20.18.

Boosting hiring wages is expected to help with staff retention as the afterschool program currently faces labor shortages. There are 19 employees at this time.

“If we want to serve as many of our Pender County students as we can, we actually need six more [employees],” Dr. Charles Aiken, chief academic officer for instruction and ESL services, said during the Dec. 14 meeting.

PACES has nine vacancies for hire, but six will effectively accommodate the 164 students currently on the waitlist.

Slated to go into effect January 2022, the PACES program rates will rise on a phased-in approach. The program’s current enrollment fees are “well below anything else in the area,” according to Aiken and the two-year increase to $60 would still put PCS “below market value.”

By utilizing Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) III grant money, Aiken proposed waiting to apply any increase until August 2022. Fees would go up by $7.50 and rise another $7.50 by August 2023.

ESSER funds are part of the American Rescue Plan Act to help safely reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools and address the impacts of Covid-19.

“We propose to use any fee increase to accommodate salary increases of our staff, begin to provide appropriate professional development and greatly increase and upgrade our technology and instructional materials,” Aiken said.

The suggested amendment would keep some current benefits in place. PACES employees receive a half-price discount for children enrolled in the program, and there is a multi-student discount of $5 off per subsequently enrolled child.

PACES currently has an enrollment of 364 students.

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