Durham educators hold 'Day of Protest' over pay dispute; plan to keep pressure on school board

Tuesday, February 6, 2024
No planned call-outs for Durham educators next couple days
A special meeting of the Board of Education is set to happen Wednesday.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Staffing absences led Durham Public Schools (DPS) to close seven schools Monday as educators rallied over a pay dispute issue.

The Durham Association of Educators (DAE) said it does not anticipate any more school closures in the next two days. The group said it will continue to put pressure on the DPS Board of Education to meet the demands of educators, but for now, that pressure will include rallies after school.

DAE organized a rally Monday while the seven schools were closed. The group reiterated what is wanted from the school board when the two groups meet later this week:

  • Restore steps and commit to no pay cuts for February paychecks
  • Public explanation of why January checks did not look like people expected
  • Schedule a work session with DAE for the week of February 12th

The next special meeting of the Board of Education will be held Wednesday.

WATCH: Durham parents support DPS employees' fight for better pay

As frustrating as it may be when schools are closed and bus drivers don't show up, some Durham parents say they support Durham Public School employees' fight for better pay.

Monday's protests were part of a growing pressure on the school board to keep the pay scale the way it was in October 2023.

The district said that's when around 500 employees got a 25% pay raise in error. The district then altered that pay structure in January, causing some employees to get what they said was just $10 paychecks.

This is the second time educators have scheduled a walkout.

"It feels very discouraging to see that the checks are not full. As educators, we have to make sure that we are here mentally, spiritually, emotionally for our students because they are at the center of this. And in order to do that, we need to know if we can pay our rent, pay our mortgage where our groceries are coming from the next month." Christy Patterson said.

DAE said neither of the two options DPS has floated as a fix for the situation benefits educators.

The two options:

Option 1: Give all staff at least a 4% raise for state experience only.

Option 2: Implement an 11% salary increase over the 2022-23 compensation for classified employees and restore salary steps for the last school year. Steps are represented by years of experience.

Monday's protest was the latest twist in the ongoing pay dispute between employees and DPS.

"Their (DPS) own actions have created this problem by setting up expectations and then pulling back on them," UNC Law Professor Jeffrey Hirsh said.

Hirsh is a labor and employment law expert at UNC. He said the district is really in a tight spot.

"They're caught between a rock and a hard place, and it's not clear exactly how it's going to play out," he said.

"Please know that our students remain our top priority although tomorrow's closure will keep us from learning together. We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your understanding," DPS said in a news release.

DAE and community partners provided free lunches for any families affected by the school closures Monday.

Laura Canfield, the mother of two students, said she was adamant that teachers should get paid more. She said she feels lucky she has a flexible schedule, as does her husband, and they took turns doing carpool for a while

Ongoing pay dispute in Durham leads to several schools closing, due to anticipated staffing challenges, DPS confirms

"The last three weeks have been crazy," Canfield said. "We have been affected by the bus situation, the teacher shortages and everywhere in between."

The following seven schools were closed Monday because of staffing shortages:

  • Morehead Montessori
  • Bethesda Elementary
  • Carrington Middle
  • E. K. Powe Elementary
  • Durham School of the Arts
  • Sandy Ridge Elementary
  • Little River K-8 School

The Durham Public Schools Board of Education said Friday that continuing to pay the rates that were paid to classified employees from July through January is unaffordable.

"Let me emphasize: We are not saying our employees are not worth it. You all are the heartbeat of our work. We know our schools can't function without you. Any option we consider today must continue to provide raises for our classified staff," Umstead said in a statement Friday.

The Board asked the administration to bring back options for how to provide its classified staff with pay increases over the amounts paid in 2022-23 that are fair and within the school system's current financial resources, according to the statement Friday.

Durham Mayor Leonardo Williams is letting the affected parties work the matter out, but said while not pointing fingers, that it seemed mistakes were made.

"As a former educator, once an educator, always an educator I know what it feels like. When systems can make errors," Williams said. "Systems are run by humans, and mistakes can be made. I just really hope that it clears up and we can get back to work and kids can get learning again."