Saturday, February 4, 2023

Pender County Schools incentivizes substitute teachers with hike in pay rate

Pender County Schools substitute teachers will now earn more than the state-mandated minimum. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

PENDER COUNTY — Pender County Schools has joined the growing number of school systems that are raising wages in an attempt to revive its substitute pool. 

After discussing different options at its Jan. 11 meeting on how to retain substitute teachers, the Pender County Schools Board of Education voted to pay non-certified and certified substitutes $120 per day and $144 per day, respectively. This is an increase from its rates of $80 and $103 and higher than the state-mandated minimum. The new rates will retroactively take effect as of Jan. 1.

“Substitutes have been a backbone for us, especially throughout the pandemic, and we basically just want to make sure they’re rewarded and appreciated,” Superintendent Dr. Steven Hill wrote in an email. “They’ve agreed to go ahead and give all employees a $15 dollar base a half a year ahead of time.”

Gov. Roy Cooper signed the state budget into law in November, which included raises for educators. The budget calls for a pay increase for non-certified school employees to a minimum of $13 per hour, starting July 1, 2021, and $15 an hour, starting July 1, 2022. The minimum rates for substitute teachers per the state board of education is a minimum of $81 for unlicensed subs and $105 for licensed subs.

“[O]ur employees will actually be making up to two or more dollars an hour more than what they would have been making without the board vote,” Hill continued.

“I am thankful for the work they’re doing because many of these substitutes are there almost every day of the week in a different classroom and have almost become a familiar face like a regular teacher,” board member Ken Smith expressed at the meeting.

Pender County Schools currently has about 100 active substitute teachers getting paid monthly. While spokesperson Bob Fankboner said the schools typically work with more non-certified than certified substitutes, there are 136 non-certified subs and 205 certified subs in its payroll system.

“It’s impossible to give a definitive number of how many more are needed, but we’re currently in a position, like our neighboring counties, where we are in need of substitute teachers and are encouraging them to apply,” Fankboner said.

To become a substitute teacher without a teaching certificate, applicants must complete a 24-hour certification course offered through Cape Fear Community College for $75. Substitutes may only work 28 hours per week.

Gov. Cooper announced Wednesday, due to the shortage of substitute teachers statewide, state employees are eligible to use their paid volunteer time to serve as subs, bus drivers or cafeteria workers. The policy is in effect until Feb. 15 and allows employees to be compensated. The state human resource commission’s community service leave policy explains “full-time state employees are eligible for 24 hours of paid community service leave each calendar year.” 

“It is critical that we keep children learning in the classroom safely,” Cooper said in a press release. “This policy will encourage state employees to lend a helping hand to our students at a time of severe staffing challenges for our public schools.”

At its Tuesday meeting, the Pender County Schools board also passed a motion to provide bonuses to 70 locally and federally funded teachers, who are not eligible for the state bonuses. The supplementary pay will come from the schools’ local funds.

The state budget calls for a one-time $300 lump sum bonus and a one-time $1,000 lump sum bonus for all state-funded, certified teachers who were employed in public school units as of Jan. 1, 2022.

The caveat with the $1,000 bonus is teachers must have had qualifying Covid-19 training between March 12, 2020 and Jan. 1, 2022 to address mitigation efforts in public schools, such as learning loss resulting from Covid-19 or having to move to virtual instruction.

“The governing body of each public school system must determine if an individual teacher or instructional support staff is a qualified teacher for the purpose of receiving this bonus,” chief finance officer Betsy Chestnutt told the board.

The board approved training qualifications for all its teachers, so they could be eligible for the bonuses.

All bonuses must be paid by Jan. 31, 2022, for schools to be eligible for reimbursement of their local funds. Pender County has already paid its public-school employees – regardless of status or funding source – $1,000. Employees who earn less than $75,000 per year are also eligible for an additional $500 bonus from the state.

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