Teacher pay hike hits a hurdle

By Shelby Harrell | Feb 10, 2017

If the teacher supplement pay in Haywood is to be raised, the financial burden to do so falls squarely in the lap of the school board — without any added funds from the county.

That's the essence of a letter sent from Haywood County to the Haywood County Board of Education dated late last year.

Last fall, the school board reached out to the commissioners for support as it formed a committee to evaluate supplemental pay for teachers.

Two of Haywood’s commissioners, chairman Kirk Kirkpatrick and Bill Upton, joined the committee, and it only took three meetings to determine that an increased supplement was, in fact, needed.

Teacher supplement pay is a percentage of a teacher’s base pay that is added to the state salary amount and is financed by local taxpayers.

After extensive research, the committee determined Haywood is losing experienced teachers because nearby counties pay higher salaries directly due to the higher supplement that's offered.

Though the commissioners expressed support for a supplement increase, the board recently sent a letter to the school board indicating that they would not be revising the funding formula to make that happen.

Since the committee was formed, the school board has been looking for a way to use its local funds to increase the teacher supplement — but in a way that doesn’t force them to cut teaching positions or instructional supply money.

One possible option that was discussed was eventually changing the funding formula — an arrangement with the commissioners that provides local funds to the school system each year based on the number of students it has. However, the funding formula is not up for discussion until the 2017-18 school year and so far, no formal request has been made.

According to the current funding formula, Haywood County Schools receives $2,022 per student based on the average daily membership (ADM). In the letter, commissioners state the ADM funding is enough to provide a supplement raise.

“Before requesting a revision to the funding formula, and/or a tax increase, we encourage the Haywood County School Board to examine their use of current resources to meet their employees’ needs,” the letter states. “An increase in the local supplement can be, and could have been, implemented by the Haywood County School Board at any time.”

The letter also iterates that the commissioners wish to continue to take a hands-off approach to the Haywood County Schools (HCS) budget, and want to leave funding allocations up to the school board.

The letter did offer Commissioner Bill Upton's help in acquiring a consultant to help the school board manage its finances.

“We are ready to assist HCS with a review of current resources,” the letter states. “Vice Chairman Upton, a former Superintendent of Haywood County Schools, has offered to make available a consultant, with expertise in North Carolina school budgets, to assist the board of education in this task. HCS may also wish to examine their extensive use of state and local funds for contracted services, fund balance policy, and growing administrative costs.”

County Manager Ira Dove said the county was willing to pay the fees to hire a consultant.

School board to respond

During its February work session, the school board discussed the letter and how to respond to it.

Jim Harley Francis, vice chairman of the school board, said the commissioners seemed to believe that the school board had “ample” money to pay for a teacher supplement — something he doesn't agree with.

“That’s sort of the way they thought, but I don’t know if we feel that same way because we don’t have it,” Jim Francis said, referring to funding. “We’re spending it in other areas. I don’t know how they determined that we have enough money.”

Chuck Francis, chairman of the school board, said he didn’t think it was the right time for the school board to work with a consultant.

“A consultant is going to tell you to privatize your cafeteria, your buses — I’ve seen it across the U.S.,” Francis said. “You do that, and who gets hurt is your local workers. I’m very concerned about that. Then you’re going to open up an avenue when they’re going to be looking into our business all the time. I don’t take the time to look at their (the county's) business that closely.

“If we want to do a consultant, we need to make that decision, is my opinion,” Francis added.

Board member Jimmy Rogers echoed Francis’ sentiments.

“Consultants are going to tell you to contract custodial services, contract transportation — yeah, you’re going to save a lot of money but then you’re going to lose a lot of employees as well,” Rogers said. “Then is the efficiency there? We don’t have control over any of that at all, and that could cause more of a chaos.”

Board member Steven Kirkpatrick said he personally believed that the school system should start looking at becoming a separate entity of the county commissioners to be able to have authority over taxes.

“What that means is, when the taxes come in, it’s not going to them, it's coming to us,” Kirkpatrick said. “The Haywood County Consolidated School System will have the power to raise taxes by 1 cent or lower it by 1 cent — whatever we feel fits our needs.”

Chuck Francis said that kind of change would only be possible if the commissioners were in support of it, as well.

“The only way we’d have a chance is if we get the current county commissioners to endorse it with you because they’re giving up that money,” Francis said. “So it would dead on arrival if they weren’t in favor of it.”

Kirkpatrick said he would like to work with the North Carolina School Board Association to make that change, even though it would put much more responsibility on the board’s shoulders.

“Personally I think that is the way to go,” he said. “But that’s my personal opinion. It’s not this board’s.”

Chuck Francis suggested responding back to the commissioners with a letter thanking the commissioners for serving on the committee, and for their offer with the consultant, adding that the school board would be looking at other avenues to fund a supplement increase.

When Kirkpatrick and Upton were asked for comment on the issue, Dove responded.

"Haywood County Commissioners are committed to funding the schools," Dove noted in an email. "We very much appreciate the teachers and staff who work in our schools. We know that they have an important role in our community.  Per-pupil school funding in Haywood County has been in the top 25 percent Statewide for years. This funding is based on a funding formula that has been agreed upon and is reviewed annually.

"To date, there has been no request to discuss changing the present funding formula. There have been no interim requests on teacher salary," Dove added. "Haywood County teachers earn almost as much in overall salary as their peers in Buncombe County and more than those in some surrounding counties. Haywood County has been competitive in this market and we want to remain competitive in compensation for those who are committed to education as a profession. In order to do this, some choices will need to be made.

"The group elected to make those choices, on how to spend funds allocated, is the school board. After a brief review, it appears that the ability to better compensate teachers is within the school systems power. ... We view the role of the Commissioners as being to offer the best services in all areas of county government, including such things as the Sheriff’s Office, Emergency Medical Services, and Health and Human Services, at a cost reasonable for the taxpayers. We are committed to do these things."