Durham Public Schools classified staff react to latest pay decision: 'A punch in the stomach'

Cindy Bae Image
Friday, February 23, 2024
Durham Public Schools staff react to latest pay decision
More than 1,000 DPS classified staff will receive an 11% pay raise from their early 2023 paychecks, but that is a reduction from what they've been making for months.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- More than a thousand Durham Public Schools classified staff will receive an 11% pay raise after the Board of Education approved the raises with a 5-2 vote Thursday night.

"Some of this is life-changing money," Board Chair Bettina Umstead said. "Any dollar increase is life-changing money for our educators. So, the decision doesn't come lightly."

The decision comes after nearly four hours of discussing the option, which they said is within the budget of Durham Public Schools.

"It's important to acknowledge that the idea and the plan behind looking to achieve market competitive rates for classified staff in Durham Public Schools is visionary," Interim Superintendent Catty Moore said. "It is important, it is long overdue. It is necessary. To acknowledge along with that ... the study that gave us the really good data about what that would look like when it came time to implement -- there were missteps in that implementation."

SEE ALSO | Documents reveal when Durham Public Schools knew of problems with salary study, budget

The 10-page salary increase report was released as part of the investigation into the pay dispute at Durham Public Schools.

Durham's new comptroller, Kerry Crutchfield, agreed with Moore's analysis of the study and its ultimately failed implementation.

However, for workers like Nysepia Cantey, who's an occupational therapy assistant, this compromise doesn't fix the problem. She, like many others, made life decisions as a result of the raise they received in October. She expected to be able to keep her increased pay.

"I went down from a 33% increase to an 11% increase, and that's going to equal up to almost about $1,000 a month for me," Cantey said. "I had plans to buy a house this year; I already have a second job."

Others echoed Cantey saying they feel like more options should have been explored.

The Durham Association of Educators said the vast majority of these workers make less than $43,000 a year.

SEE ALSO | Families of Durham Public Schools students caught up in the ongoing pay crisis: 'It's a lot'

Another round of school shutdowns on Friday left 32,000 Durham Public Schools students with an unexpected three-day weekend.

"Thursday's decision is only going to exacerbate the staffing crisis and the challenges we have recruiting and retaining good people in our schools. We have already lost irreplaceable classified co-workers because of this and many more will leave, not just because of the lower pay, but because of the disrespect," the DAE said in a statement Friday.

For Cantey, her focus is on the kids, but it's difficult for other staff to continue living paycheck to paycheck.

"I know there's been people who have already resigned," Cantey said. "We all do have a love and heart for the kids, but we also have to make sure that we do what's best for ourselves."

Crutchfield recommended putting a salary plan in place by July 1 and notifying employees of their new pay rates before the end of the school year.

SEE ALSO | Durham Public Schools to pay $300K to exiting superintendent, $25K per month to his replacement

Cantey hopes things will change for the better one day for classified staff, although she's not expecting that anytime soon.

The district said they were studying ways to bring all employees up to a livable wage and said they'll have to continue doing that work.

"All we can do is show up for our kids and do the best that we can do because that's all we have right now," Cantey said. "Continue to support each other because it's been mentally draining."