NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The school board will move ahead with a budget plan offering a $15 minimum wage and over 100 positions cut after months of back-and-forth.
After two votes, school board members accepted county staff’s proposed plan at Tuesday’s board meeting in a 5-2 vote. Board members Stephanie Walker and Judy Justice dissented.
READ MORE: Budget battles persist: NHCS to propose $15 minimum wage over $17 at school board meeting
The school system will work with $91 million from the county ($85 million after charter schools) plus an infusion of $8 million from the fund balance to support the budget. State and federal appropriations will come later this year, but are expected to be lower than previous years due to declining student populations.
Justice and Walker were still advocating for the board to bump the minimum wage up to $17 (it is currently $14) in line with the system’s salary study. Its findings suggested the lowest wage should be $16. According to county staff and Superintendent Charles Foust, that would not be possible without cutting over 300 positions.
Even with the $15 minimum wage, a state-mandated minimum, the county will have to cut 136 positions.
School board members Pete Wildeboer and Hugh McManus held up the budget’s initial passage during the first vote to question where from the positions would be cut. They were concerned it would include firing critical teaching staff.
According to Chief Financial Officer Ashley Sutton, staff will look at eliminating vacant positions first, particularly in the central office.
She also reminded the board that 82 ESSER-funded positions are set to expire in two years and therefore are included in the 136 total.
County staff said the intention for those positions, including nurses, emotional learning coaches and specialists and substance abuse counselors, was for them to be absorbed into the county budget at the end of ESSER funding, if the school board wants to include them in its permanment budget.
Justice argued that more positions could be paid from ESSER funds to accommodate raises without cuts. When Foust reminded her that would mean cutting more positions two years from now, Justice said by then the board would have the opportunity to ask the county for more money.
In the end, the majority voted to work with the county’s recommendation. In July, district staff will present a line-item budget for the school board to review.
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at email@example.com
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