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Support personnel get pay raises in Macon schools

Support personnel get pay raises in Macon schools

Substitute teachers in Macon County can expect a raise in the coming school year after a vote by the Macon County Board of Education. The board will discuss a plan for bus driver pay next month.

Last year, non-certified substitutes were paid $100 per day and certified substitutes were paid $120 per day. The 2021 state budget required all hourly school employees to get at least $13 per hour last school year and $15 per hour in the coming school year. That means this school year all non-certified substitute teachers must make $120 per day. 

“It is our responsibility to make sure that any subs paid out of state funds get that $15 per hour,” said Macon County Schools Finance Officer Angie Cook. “So that would mean that a non-certified [sub] would need to make at least $120 per day. So we need to decide, based on that, where we want to go with our certified sub pay.”

Some substitutes are paid with local funds while others are paid with state funds, but the school system must have one rate to pay all certified and non-certified substitutes. If a teacher is paid by the state, the school system can use state funds to pay for that classroom’s substitute. However, according to Cook, most of the time there is not enough state money. 

Board member Hillary Wilkes noted that if the school system followed the current model of paying certified substitutes $3 extra per hour, or 20% more, it would come out to about $145 a day for certified substitutes. 

While teachers are encouraged to seek out certified substitutes prior to non-certified, they are not required to do so. 

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Principals present at the July 25 meeting noted that it’s difficult for teachers to find available substitutes, especially on Fridays late in the spring semester. If teachers can book substitutes in advance, they have a much higher probability of finding one. However, in emergency cases like having a sick child, they run into difficulty. One principal noted that schools often have to pull other personnel, like tutors, to fill in for regular academic classroom teachers. Principals also said that experienced substitute teachers will work almost 180 days of the school year. 

All board members agreed that substitutes, certified and non-certified, deserved a raise for their work. 

“My question is, do we want to make it a nice $150?” asked Wilkes. “They’re earning every penny of it.”

However, increasing substitute pay could substantially increase the amount of local funds that go toward non-instructional support personnel, including custodians, clerical workers and substitutes. Currently, there are enough local funds for part of custodial staff and all clerical and substitutes. During the 2020-21 school year, Macon County schools paid about $1.7 million for non-instructional support personnel. During the 2021-22 school year, it paid $2.1 million for the same personnel; total substitute pay was $593,000. 

Baldwin said he hoped that the dramatic increase in substitute pay was due to the pandemic and quarantine requirements for teachers. He expects to see a decline in need during the coming school year.  

No more than 20% of the substitutes working in Macon County are certified. Board members noted that the other 80% of non-certified substitutes are mandated to get increased pay. The choice to increase the pay of the non-certified substitutes, while requiring more funds, would not have as big of an impact on the budget as certified substitute pay. 

“It certainly makes sense to encourage those experienced people in the classroom when the teachers are out,” said board member Melissa Evans. 

The board voted unanimously to approve increased pay for substitute teachers; $125 per day for non-certified and $150 per day for certified. 

Bus drivers are another sector of hourly workers in North Carolina public schools that will see their pay increase to at least $15 per hour. However, all school systems in The Smoky Mountain News’ coverage area have a bus driver shortage. 

“We do have a shortage of bus drivers, as does every other school system in the entire nation it seems,” said Baldwin. “We do have good news from the state, with regard to the minimum hourly rate, which has gone to $15 an hour. That should attract additional folks, but we are currently short two half routes and two full routes. We need to address that prior to Aug. 29.”

Bus driving requires an odd set of hours that is prohibitive to working most other jobs and may not be inviting. Drivers need to be available early in the morning and throughout the late afternoon and evening. 

“Anything that we can do to attract additional bus drivers would be helpful,” said Baldwin. “We do have a number of clerical workers, custodians and teachers who drive buses. The issues with clerical workers and custodians that drive buses is that we may have to get them to overtime and we have done that, pretty significantly in the past. Teachers who drive buses, we don’t have to pay overtime.”

According to Baldwin, that overtime comes out of custodian pay, not bus driver pay, which means it comes from local funds. Some custodians in Macon County who drive school buses have had their custodial hours reduced to remain within the 40-hour work week while driving a bus and doing custodial work. The problem with this schedule is that a person may drive a school bus in the morning, work as a custodian until lunch, and then be off the clock until they have to come back and drive a bus in the evening. 

“That’s a big break in their day. They end up spending money to go home or go somewhere else,” said Baldwin. “They basically have to drive to work twice. It’s not very attractive to staff. Overtime is obviously a better situation for them and better for us because they are more reliable, but it’s more expensive. And we still have a problem attracting bus drivers.”

Baldwin told the board that some school systems are looking at sign-on bonuses; however, he is not in favor of these because it doesn’t reward the drivers who have been with the school system for several years. 

Before the state-mandated increase, an inexperienced bus driver would make around $12.84 per hour, while an experienced bus driver may already be making $15 per hour. With the mandated increase, inexperienced bus drivers will now automatically make $15 per hour, while an experienced bus driver already making that amount will only get a 67-cent hourly increase. 

“I’m not in favor of a sign-on bonus for that reason,” said Baldwin. “It’s been a morale issue, not only with bus drivers but with custodians and clerical workers. They saw that beginning rate increase pretty dramatically but then there’s no reward for folks that have been around for a while.”

Board Chairman Jim Breedlove asked that Baldwin bring a proposal for bus driver pay before the board at its next meeting. 

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