The Wake County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday on bringing everyone's salary up to at least $15 per hour.
Superintendent Cathy Moore said those making the least amount of money would see raises of 30% or more.
It also means instructional assistants and bus drivers would get to just under $17 per hour.
"You will see that the largest increases are proposed for those earning less than $15 an hour," Wake County Schools spokesperson Lisa Luten wrote to ABC11. "In fact, simply creating a $15 per hour minimum, coupled with increases based on years of experience, means many employees in our lowest pay grades will see increases of 30% or more."
Ana Stratis, the cafeteria manager at Oberlin Magnet Middle School, said she and others are worried that staff who have been there a while won't be making what those just coming in will be getting.
"Public school staff need at least 17 dollars an hour for minimum wage and we will continue advocating for that," Stratis said. "If steps are not restructured, how is it fair for the employee who has been in the system for 10 years to be making the same amount of money that someone in the system is coming in and making?
The raises to base pay come after the district had already approved bonuses last month.
In early November, the board approved a motion for a $1,250 one-time bonus for all permanent employees. Later in the month, the board voted unanimously in favor of $3,750 in bonus pay to all staff. Those bonuses will be divided into three paychecks through 2022.
Principals, for example, would get an additional $2,800 in a state-legislated bonus in their January paychecks.
Certified staff would get a $1,000 state legislated COVID-mitigation training bonus in their January checks. They'd also get an additional $1,000 bonus and those making less than $75,000 a year would get an additional $500.
"It's important for the board to always have a reminder of the people and humans who are behind the decisions they are making," said Kristin Beller, president of the Wake chapter of the NCAE.
Stratis said the bonus alone isn't enough.
"I hold the responsibility of getting our kids fed, I make it happen," Stratis said. "While it was nice to get the bonus, we know that this is no substitute for getting a decent raise to reflect a living wage."
Grant Bess, a teacher at Young Wake Women's Leadership Academy, said that even with the raises and increase to local supplement, he'll only be getting a few more dollars a month.
"Let's be honest, you'd have empty payrolls and 20,000 posted job openings if all we cared about was the money," Bess said. "I love the students I teach, and they'll move on, but at the of the year, I'll be thinking about the family I have, and if I can afford to have my own kids."
Educators held a rally before the board meeting Tuesday to continue to impress on the school board that while this is a win, all employees should eventually get to $17/hour to be in line with the standard living wage in the area.
Luten said that when bonuses and base pay are combined in January, most employees -- certified and non-certified -- will receive the largest individual paycheck of their WCPSS career.
"Focusing on January and the biggest paycheck ever is short sighted," Bess said. "Bonuses don't go on mortgage applications or offer security or retirement. It's better than nothing but it isn't reliable."
Luten said the pandemic forced WCPSS to pause some of its efforts, but "we will return to this topic of employee pay in just a few short months when the superintendent's 2022-2023 proposed budget is released."
In another development, Lindsay Mahaffey was elected as next chair of the Wake school board. It's a one-year term. Mahaffey replaces Keith Sutton, who said his goodbyes to fellow board members Tuesday night.
Sutton is taking over as superintendent of Warren County Schools next year.