GREENSBORO — The Guilford County Board of Education voted Tuesday to ask county commissioners for $25 million more in operating funds for next school year’s budget, including raises for teachers, administrators and some support staff.
The request, which passed 8-1, calls for the commissioners to give about $234.6 million for the district’s annual operating budget next school year — an increase of $25 million from this year’s budget.
It also asks commissioners for $10 million for the capital outlay budget, which mostly pays for building maintenance projects.
If commissioners approve that amount, it would be about $7 million more than what the district received for the capital outlay budget in 2020-21.
Since last year’s budget season, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners has undergone a major political shift, with Democrats firmly in the majority. That could mean the commissioners would be more open to funding the requested increase for the schools operating budget.
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County manager Michael Halford, who will make his own budget recommendations to the commissioners, is also new to the job.
Superintendent Sharon Contreras recommended last month the district ask for $10 million more per year in salary supplements for teachers as a start toward matching the salaries paid by Wake County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, the state’s two largest school districts.
Teacher salaries are mostly paid by the state, but local districts can add supplemental pay.
District administrators calculated the average teacher supplement for Guilford County Schools would be $6,284 next year if commissioners fund the supplement increase. That’s $1,319 more than if the increase were not put in place.
If the district increases local teacher supplements by $10 million per year for the next five years, as Contreras recommends, she projects that Guilford County Schools could match, and exceed by about $200, the local supplements paid by Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Wake County Schools.
Contreras had also recommended asking county leaders for $3.25 million to increase local supplements for administrators, $1.9 to increase pay for school nutrition workers and $1.6 to permanently secure money for a salary increase for bus drivers that is already in place.
That would ensure that bus drivers and school nutrition workers are paid at least $15 an hour.
The Guilford County Association of Educators has been advocating that all school employees be paid at least that much or more.
During the meeting, board member T. Dianne Bellamy-Small asked Contreras about other school employees still making less than $15 per hour.
“At some point we want to be where we are offering it across the board for all employees, don’t we?” Bellamy-Small asked.
Earlier, as school board members arrived at the district’s Eugene Street administration building for the 6 p.m. meeting, two separate groups were rallying on the sidewalks.
One was the Guilford County Association of Educators, which was calling for a 5% salary increase across the board for all public school employees and everyone to make at least $15 an hour.
Monica White, a teacher assistant at Cone Elementary, said she has a college degree and 21 years of experience working with students — but she’s making about $22,000 a year.
“To me, that’s a problem,” said White, adding that she stays because she worries about what would happen to students.
Nearby, was a group called Take Back Our Schools. The conservative-leaning group, which is currently recruiting candidates to run for the school board, has mobilized around a variety of issues, including opposing a district discipline policy change in 2019.
On Tuesday, Take Back Our Schools was calling for district leaders to reopen school board meetings to the public and allow residents to share their comments in person again rather than by email.
The meetings are televised and streamed live online, but the board has not allowed the public to attend because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tuesday’s meeting included a series of technical difficulties, and at one point Vice Chairwoman Winston McGregor spoke at length during conversation about the budget without any sound being broadcast.
Chairwoman Deena Hayes-Greene said new equipment was in place they hoped would make it easier to hear and asked for patience as district staff worked to troubleshoot the sound issues.