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After a long, rocky road, New Hanover County School Board passes budget

NHCS Board on Tuesday, June 21, 2022.
Rachel Keith
NHCS Board on Tuesday, June 21, 2022.

At Tuesday’s New Hanover County School Board meeting, the board passed the budget — without a hard-fought $17/hour minimum wage for classified staff — in a 5 to 2 vote, with members Judy Justice and Stephanie Walker dissenting, saying they wanted the district to look into more ways to give classified staff a raise. The budget also means that dozens of positions will have to be eliminated.

Editor's note: Find a deep dive into the budget decision and the history leading up to it here —NHCS's painful budget compromise: What happened, how staff are reacting, and how we got here

The budget represents a begrudging compromise between the board's desire to raise classified staff pay to a $17/hour minimum wage and the desire to avoid cutting hundreds of positions. The board had initially hoped New Hanover County would provide additional funding — but county commissioners declined. Superintendent Dr. Charles Foust had said during previous budget discussions that in order to make sweeping raises possible, over 300 positions would need to be eliminated between cutting current positions and not filling vacant positions.

Related: New Hanover County school board still hashing out budget, TA pay increase uncertain

That compromise: raising many teacher assistants' wages from $13 to the state-mandated $15 hourly pay with step raises — and cutting 54 positions.

The vote to approve this budget reflects a flip from Members Hugh McManus and Pete Wildeboer — Wildeboer and McManus originally voted with Justice and Walker in declaring that they were not ready to approve the district’s budget.

Wildeboer wanted the district to reassess the possibility of providing a $16 an hour minimum for all classified staff, which includes teaching assistants.

He also took issue with not knowing which 54 positions would be cut over the next two years, which the superintendent had suggested was necessary in order to achieve the state-mandated $15 an hour minimum, with the district providing a 1% step increase for years of service.

McManus agreed with Wildeboer about the lack of information surrounding the reductions in positions.

But after the board took a short break, he changed his tune, saying the county commissioners wouldn’t likely give them any additional funding and the school board would have to work things out themselves.

“They have spoken. They’d have to eat a lot to come back to us. Hopefully, if we all agree, the numbers are workable,” said McManus.

After McManus’s speech, Wildeboer changed his vote, too.

The approved budget also includes a $1,000 bonus for classified staff for the next two school years, using federal Covid funding.

The board also said they could revisit the budget once the state passes theirs, which could involve additional funding — and if the district exceeds the number of students they’ve budgeted for, which could mean more funding from the county, which provides money on a per-student rate.

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR