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

Akilah Davis Image
Friday, February 9, 2024
Documents reveal when DPS 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, N.C. (WTVD) -- ABC11 has obtained the official timeline of events from Durham Public Schools following the resignation of the superintendent. The 10-page salary increase report was released as part of the investigation into the pay dispute.

The documents give us a better idea of how the pay dispute unfolded.

Fall 2022

In response to the Board's desire to increase pay for classified employees, the Superintendent engaged HIL Consultants in October 2022 to complete a classified salary study. The HIL Consultants' proposed cost to perform the salary study was $78,500 plus expenses. HIL Consultants reviewed existing salary schedules and interviewed dozens of employees in November and December of 2022, and used this information to develop new proposed classified salary grades.

January-March 2023

The results of this study were presented at a Board work session on Jan. 12. According to the Board's minutes, the administration shared "the salary study work will begin in February 2023 and a report submitted to the board in April 2023."

During the work session, two representatives from HIL Consultants made a presentation to the Board and provided a 39-page written report.


The report contained multiple different statements regarding how employees' years of experience could be counted for placement within the new salary grades. The Recommendations section (p. 21) recommended DPS "place employees on the correct levels based on years of experience ... We recommend employees be converted to the proposed schedule at the current longevity years with Durham Public Schools ... when employees are promoted, the employee should be placed at the actual years of experience verified by Durham Public Schools ... We also recommend Durham Public Schools give private sector experience credit based on actual years of verified service for comparable job duties."

During the verbal presentation, the HIL Consultants did note that "our criteria is state years of experience," but there was also discussion of giving credit for "verified" private sector experience.

The consultants provided an estimated cost of $10.8 million to implement the new salary schedules but referred to this as a "rough" number "just based on our first perusal." HIL Consultants calculated this estimate using then-current payroll data, and they calculated where employees would be placed on the schedule based on their state longevity, rather than their current step on the old DPS schedule, which used total years of work experience.

At the January and October 2023 meetings, the Board was never informed that implementing the new salary schedules using employees' existing years of experience would nearly double the cost of the salary study
From the Classified Salary Increases Report

In their report, the consultants noted that one recurring complaint in their employee interviews was that longtime DPS employees felt undervalued compared to new hires. A new hire who had worked elsewhere for 15 years, perhaps in a different type of job, could be placed on the same salary step as someone who had worked for DPS for 15 years. The report stated, "Staff said they want veteran employees to earn amounts equal to or higher than new staff members who are hired."

The presentation was placed on the agenda as a discussion item. No Board action was requested, and no vote was taken. The Communications Office put out a summary of the meeting that stated: "At its January 12 monthly work session, the Durham Board of Education heard a classified salary report on a study conducted on behalf of the district by HIL Consultants that includes $10.8 million in recommendations that would alleviate inequities in pay. Adoption of the proposed recommendations would yield salary increases for approximately 2200 DPS classified employees. These recommendations will be proposed by Superintendent (Pascal) Mubenga as part of the 2023-2024 budget process."

November 2023-January 2024

On Nov. 8, the Finance Officer alerted the Superintendent to a significant potential budget problem. He reported that implementation of the classified salary increases could put the district $12 million over budget for the year. Later that day the Finance Officer provided the Superintendent with a rough calculation of more than $19 million for implementation of the classified salary schedules, rather than the roughly $10 million he had quoted to the Board. The Finance Officer provided the Superintendent with a draft proposal to cover the increased cost from various revenue sources.

That same day, the Superintendent contacted HIL Consultants and asked it to review the District's finances to determine whether there was a significant deficit because of the salary increases.

After the Superintendent was notified by the Finance Officer that the implementation of the new classified salaries would lead to a multi-million dollar budget shortfall, paychecks went out. (p. 9) at the end of November based on the new salary schedules with total years of experience, as did retroactive payments to make the new salaries effective July 1.

Between Nov. 8 and Jan. 4, HIL Consultants reviewed financial data it received from the Finance Office and spoke with Finance Department and Human Resources officials. The Assistant Superintendent for HR confirmed in an email to HIL Consultants on Dec. 13 that DPS had made a choice not to implement the longevity-based system.

The Board held regular meetings on Nov. 16 and Dec. 14 and a meeting with the Board of County Commissioners on Nov. 17.

On Dec. 18, the Superintendent first notified two Board members, the Board Chair (Bettina Umstead) and Board member Natalie Beyer, who both happened to be in the central office for another meeting. He told them that there might be a significant problem with the budget and salary payments, but he did not have a firm number yet and wanted more time to get help from HIL Consultants. He told them he would bring the Board more details and multiple options for fixing the problem after the holidays.

On Jan. 4, the Superintendent received a written report from HIL Consultants confirming that the pay schedules had been implemented using DPS steps based on total years of work experience (1:1), while the original cost estimates a year earlier had been based on using state longevity.

The report did not provide findings about how this had happened, it just summarized that they had reviewed payroll data and determined that the majority of classified employees had been placed on the new schedules based on the "assigned steps as of the previous fiscal year" with "no correlation to the NC state longevity years which are verifiable." The consultants also identified other apparent shortfalls in the District's budget, due in part to declining student enrollment that has resulted in a significant decrease in state funding.

On Jan. 9, the Superintendent first contacted the Board attorney. The Superintendent brought the issue to the full Board for the first time on Jan. 11. The problem, as reported by the Superintendent both to the attorneys and to the Board, was that the Finance department had used the wrong data set to implement the new salary schedules.

Durham Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Pascal Mubenga announced he is resigning from the district during a closed meeting Wednesday night.

We now know that this was not an accurate description of the problem. The schedules were implemented using total years of experience as intended by the administration, but without providing accurate estimates to the Board of the cost of that decision. As a result, the classified salary increases were on track to cost nearly twice as much as the $10.8 million estimate presented to the Board and to the County.

On Wednesday, Feb. 7, Mubenga submitted his resignation as superintendent. That came two weeks after DPS' Chief Financial Officer Paul LeSieur resigned amid the pay dispute that has rocked DPS operations.

Mubenga's resignation was effective immediately, according to the Resignation Agreement obtained by ABC11.

As the fallout continued, DPS announced that all classes would be canceled for students on Friday, Feb. 9, because of an "overwhelming number of staff absences."

Some parents are bracing for what's next as the Durham pay issue persists and the school district was suddenly left without a leader.