RALEIGH (WTVD) --Wake County Commissioners are taking steps to boost the county's portion of teacher pay.
On Monday, commissioners committed to working with the school system to find more money. They did not say how much more, and they did not say where the school system should look. However, they did say they want to make their salary supplement for teachers the highest in the state.
The Wake County School superintendent asked for a 3.5-percent raise across the board and the proposed county budget did not allocate any money for a pay hike. That is why some teacher advocates are encouraged by Monday's vote -- it opened the door.
"We're certainly very appreciative for them opening the door so we can continue to have discussions," said Wake County School Board member Tom Benton.
Still, others say the money for a teacher pay raise should not come out of the existing budget. A lot of people who spoke out at Monday's hearing told commissioners to find the money elsewhere.
"I appreciate what you said about having the county manager look at the rolls and find more money, but we may need more taxes to do that work," said Catherine Wilkerson.
"Today, I ask you to lead the way and vote to improve the Wake County Public Schools proposed budget and a 3.5-percent increase in teacher pay," said Beth Dickenson.
Yet, while there seemed to be support among commissioners to increase teacher pay, they also agreed that they would not raise taxes to do it.
Conservative Wake County Commissioner Paul Coble said the school system should tap into an existing reserve fund.
"What we're going to do is reach into the money the school system has not spent over the last number of years. They're sitting on about 39 plus million dollars they have not spent," Coble said. "You're saying go to the rainy day fund -- it's not a rainy day fund. It's basically a slush fund they're sitting on."
"That would be his choice of words. For us, I know we like to keep a balance in our budget. Our present balance would fund the school system for three days...not quite three days," Benton said.
"What we're saying is, if you're not going to spend the money we give you for the things you say you're going to spend it on, then make teachers a priority and give teachers an increasing salary," Coble said.
Monday afternoon's hearing set the stage for a similar conversation Monday night at a public hearing where teachers, both retired and current, weighed in.
"Think about the message you're sending from the capital city of Raleigh, North Carolina to the rest of the state of North Carolina," said retired Wake County teacher Bernice Perry.
"Waitressing, working for the Arc of Wake County, nannying, tutoring," said Wake County teacher Kim Benson. "This summer, I'm working at a science camp."
The Wake County Commons building filled up quickly. Staff had to add more chairs to accommodate the ire in the room.
Some came out to scold county commissioners.
"We don't do it for the money," said Wake County teacher Jennifer Bell. "We do it for the love of the profession, but we are turning this profession into a part-time job."
All 45 signed up speakers, including Broughton High School's Duke University bound valedictorian, urged Wake County commissioners to support the superintendent's request for a 3.5 percent pay raise across the board without making the school system tap into an existing reserve fund.
"I have teachers who I know are struggling to be my teacher because they can't support their families and they want to leave," said Broughton High School valedictorian Elizabeth Brown.
The hearing comes on the heels of a job fair last weekend offering Wake teachers handsome pay raises to move to Houston.
The county is also now weighing the State Senate's budget drafted last week that would force the system to fire 693 teacher's assistants and give up tenure to get an 11 percent pay raise.
"I'm tired of losing friends. I'm tired of losing colleagues to other states and industries," said Wake NCAE President Larry Nilles. "I'm tired of begging for respect. I'm tired of living paycheck to paycheck, and I'm tired of being underestimated by policymakers."
County commissioners don't have any say about tenure, but they do have a say in supplemental pay, which is money they add on top of state-funded salaries. They're vowing to make Wake County number one in the state over the Chapel Hill-Carrboro system.
Next Monday, commissioners will hold a work session to make any changes to its budget proposal. A week later, the final proposal is expected to be on the table.
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