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NC gave CFCC over $360,000 to recruit and retain employees, but doesn’t yet know how or why they spent it


Last fiscal year, CFCC received $363,151 in labor market adjustment reserve funds from the General Assembly. CFCC was one of three community colleges out of 58 across the state that didn't account for the use of those funds for a state board report. Records acquired by WHQR show they mainly went to those in upper administration who are categorized as "institutional support" and those who work in student services.

Around the end of May, most of Cape Fear Community College’s faculty and staff will be informed about whether their contracts will be renewed for the following year.

On top of waiting for this decision — known to some as "Bloody May" — many employees have seen their wages either stagnate over time or increase slightly, while those working in upper management have seen larger than average increases.

Those increases included money from over $360,000 provided by the state as part of what’s known as the Labor Market Adjustment Reserve, a new, recurring fund included in the 2022-2023 budget to help colleges stay competitive.

Documents provided by CFCC indicate several top officials received salary boosts from this state fund — but when it came time to file a state-mandated report on how the college spent the money, CFCC essentially submitted a blank document to the state community college office. Despite that, there appears to be no state-level oversight asking further questions about how CFCC used the state money.

Records show that CFCC distributed the funds around the end of October. CFCC has provided some information about the disbursal, but there is still information missing about where the funds went.

Labor Market Adjustment Reserve increases

As part of last year’s state budget, North Carolina community colleges were set to receive funding for labor market salary adjustment. The budget language noted the funds were designed to help community colleges compete in an increasingly tight labor market, addressing “specific staffing issues by providing targeted salary increases to recruit and retain capable labor.” The state allocated $363,151 to CFCC, the 6th highest amount given by the state.

In return for the budget boost, community colleges were required to report back to the state on how they had applied the funding.

Officially, the state community college system considers CFCC in compliance in terms of reporting the use of these funds during the first quarter of the fiscal year.

However, what CFCC Budget Director Cheryl Garner sent to the state was an Excel sheet with all zeros. Emails show that as of October 13, there was no official plan for the funds, as Garner said CFCC “does plan to use these funds but we have not identified specific positions or allocated this towards specific positions at this time.”

What the state community college sent as what was on file for CFCC's labor market adjustment reserve funds.
State Community College System/CFCC
What NCCCS (state system) sent for the use of CFCC's labor market adjustment reserve funds.

State emails also show colleges were reminded of the reporting requirement.

Starting in early September 2022, Brandy Andrews, the state community college chief financial officer, said in an email that “Presidents received a heads-up yesterday about the upcoming Labor Market Adjustment Reserve reporting requirement.”

Further, state system employees like Judy King, the director of systems accounting and special projects, sent out reminder emails in early October about the reporting requirement, saying they would like documentation on how they “have used or plan to use” the funds.

In October, Garner sent in CFCC’s form — filled out with zeroes — to the state, noting that they hadn’t finished identifying which positions would receive pay bumps.

King told Garner when she submitted the effectively blank report, “Thank you for the explanation.”

In an email exchange, Garner offered to provide updated figures but King told her to wait — but also noted that they would likely eventually need to submit their Excel sheet, as there could be a need for a finalized financial report by the end of fiscal year 2023.

Shortly after this conversation, the college did disburse the labor market funds. One email sent by CFCC CFO Christina Greene confirms the funds were distributed at least by November 1, 2022 (the college confirmed the resulting pay increases were backdated to the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1, 2022).

Labor market requirements

So far, technically, there is no state requirement for those distributions to be reported. Nathan Hardin, the executive director of communications for the state community college system office, said, “There is not a legislative requirement for them [CFCC] to send any additional updated reports for these funds, so any reported expenditures since Sept. 30 would need to be requested of the college.”

There are, however, five state guidelines on the use of the labor market funds.

State regulations on the use of the funds.
State Community College System budget allocation document
State regulations on the use of the funds.

When asked if anyone at the state office is ensuring the colleges are in compliance with the five requirements, Hardin said he would try and find out more information but hasn’t followed up yet.

Since the state office had no record of how CFCC’s funds were spent, WHQR requested financial records from the college to see how they were used. WHQR also asked for the labor market studies cited in a state report as the reason CFCC could not submit them on time. CFCC’s Director of Media Relations Christina Hallingse declined to answer whether those documents exist.

According to an email sent by Hallingse on March 27, 65 full-time staff members received the increase as of July 1, 2022 (even though their personnel records say July 3). Some of those included Executive Director of the President’s Office Michelle Lee, Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness, Planning & Compliance Michael Cobb, and Vice President of Human Resources Anne Smith.

WHQR could not independently verify whether CFCC's use of the funds met all the requirements.

Where did community colleges spend their money?

CFCC was one of three community colleges, along with Forsyth and Halifax, that didn’t meet the deadline for reporting fund use to the State Office of Human Resources (OSHR). The reason given in a report on the labor market fund spending by OSHR was that all three of these colleges were still “in the process of conducting local labor market studies to aid in making decisions.”

*Editor's Note: After publication, Hardin sent the following about the inclusion of the Robeson Community College as one of the four who didn't submit to the state office in time for the OSHR report on the market increases, "After review, our finance division found that Robeson did in fact submit their report by the deadline. That appears to have been an administrative correction on our end."

The OSHR produced that report for the State Community College Board in time for their November 18, 2022 meeting.

In the OSHR report, of the 55 colleges that submitted information for the deadline, 64% of the funds were spent on making labor-market adjustments for salaries, 27% to rectify salary inequity/compression issues, and 9% was spent on filling positions with high turnover vacancy rates.

Breakdown of where 54 community colleges spent the funds.
Office of State Human Resources (OSHR)
Breakdown of where 54 community colleges spent the funds.

In terms of recipients by area, about 29% went towards those working in institutional support, followed by academic support (23%), student services (22%), curriculum (19%), and continuing education (7%).

Breakdown of where the funds went in terms of areas on community colleges on campus.
Office of State Human Resources (OSHR)
Breakdown of where the funds went in terms of areas on community colleges on campus.

CFCC's missing documentation?

While CFCC did provide documentation to WHQR about who received these increases, Hallingse declined to answer whether the college eventually filled out the state Excel sheet that would show these “adjustments by reason” and “adjustments by area”.

What the data shows is that most of the college’s vice presidents received a 10% bump in pay due to the market increase. Some mail clerks received a 15% increase in salary. Additionally, some 10% increases were given to counselors; select academic advisors received about a 5% increase.

Note: You can find a full report on CFCC’s use of labor market funds at the end of this report.

Upper administration received larger increases than many faculty and staff

While faculty and staff salaries are incrementally increasing, top officials at CFCC have seen significant salary jumps, including the president himself.

For example, certain college vice presidents got over a 10% increase in salary from the fiscal year 2022: Sabrina Terry (15%), Christina Greene (13%), Shane Fernando (13%), Michael Cobb (13%), Anne Smith (13%), Sonya Johnson (13%), and Brandon Gutherie (13%).

Guthrie recently received two promotions (Interim Vice President and Vice President of Academic Affairs) from his last position of dean of the arts and sciences. He took over for 20-year former employee Jason Chaffin, who was made to sign a non-disparagement agreement before he formally resigned from the college, something he wanted the college to “re-consider”.

Michelle Lee also received one of the larger salary increases in the upper administration (15%) — much of that (13%) was from the labor market increase fund. By comparison, most vice presidents received a 10% increase in their base salary as a result of the state fund.

This marks a trend in upper administrators receiving larger-than-average salaries over several years. Note: You can find personnel and salary data records showing this trend below.

Some top CFCC officials' overall salary increases over the last year.
Some top CFCC officials' overall salary increases over the last year.

Faculty/staff increases

Last year, the state allocated a 3.5% increase for community college staff and faculty and mandated that all hourly workers earn at least $15 an hour. The year prior, it was a 2.5% increase, with hourly workers earning a minimum of $13 an hour.

Hallingse said that all full-time time college employees had received two bonuses in the last five months.

The first bonus of $1,500 was given in November 2022. The second $1,500 bonus was awarded in March 2023.

Eric Brandon, the outgoing Faculty Association President, has long advocated for faculty and staff raises well over 10%.

During the September 2022 Board of Trustees meeting, Brandon said, “Faculty salary increases since 2008 have not, on average, kept pace with the rate of inflation. Furthermore, I stressed that without significant salary increases directly from the state of North Carolina, it could become difficult to both recruit and retain faculty at CFCC and across the entire North Carolina Community College system.”

The terms of the state budget have yet to be decided, but House Republicans have proposed that state employees would see salary increases of more than 7.5%.

CFCC in the rankings

Hallingse also sent out a press release on April 20 about CFCC moving up the rankings in terms of faculty and staff salary increases. Morton was quoted touting his commitment to increasing faculty and staff salaries.

“Student success depends on retaining highly qualified employees,” he said.

According to the official state website for community college job postings, CFCC has 52 vacancies as of May 17. Other top seven community colleges, those with the highest enrollments, like Wake Tech, has one opening. Forsyth has four. Guilford trails not far behind CFCC at 48 vacancies; whereas colleges like Rowan-Cabarrus have 10 openings and Fayetteville has 16.

The state site does not appear to include a full list of vacancies; some colleges have told WHQR that they have to manually post listing to the site, and haven't always had good traction for bringing in applicants from there.

At the same time, individual colleges appear in some cases to show more job postings than actually exist (some may have been temporary jobs that aren’t needed, or part-time jobs that have been picked up by other positions). For example, the state shows Guilford Technical Community College as having 48 listings, GTCC’s jobs site shows 166. But according to GTCC’s communication department, it’s 75. Forsyth, on the other hand, confirmed that it had 62 openings — the same number shown on its website, but more than the four shown on the state-level site.

WHQR is reaching out to top enrollment colleges around the state to get a better sense of what the vacancy situation actually looks like.

[Editor’s note: WHQR initially filed this report based solely on numbers from the state community college job site, which are inaccurate. A spokesperson for the state community college system said the issue was being looked into. We regret any misleading information.]

Bladen Community College has the highest average faculty salary in the state system at $59,779. Former CFCC President Dr. Amanda Lee has been the president of Bladen CC since December 2018.

Top 7 colleges (in terms of enrollment) faculty salaries over two fiscal years.
Top 7 colleges (in terms of enrollment) faculty salaries over two fiscal years.

Wake Technical Community College, over these fiscal years, has maintained the highest staff salaries in the state. Last year’s average was $62,928.

Top 7 (in terms of enrollment) community college staff salary figures over several fiscal years.
Top 7 (in terms of enrollment) community college staff salary figures over several fiscal years.

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