By Eliot Duke
Dunn Daily Record
Superintendent Aaron Fleming thinks it’s past time Harnett County Schools employees received a raise.
When discussing the upcoming budget with the HCS Board of Education recently, Fleming made note of his ongoing efforts to get teacher and classified staff pay more in line with surrounding counties. Harnett County’s certified teacher supplements lag behind other districts, some significantly, and is something Fleming said should be addressed to keep HCS competitive.
“I believe this is the bread and butter to our recruitment of teachers,” Fleming said. “I believe it is what could give Harnett County the advantage when it comes to recruiting and retaining our certified employees. Every other county that touches us right now is higher than us.”
Fleming, in the past, made known his desire to see the local teacher supplement increased to at least 10%, a number he compared to neighboring Lee County but well behind Wake County, which is nearly twice that number and rising every year.
Multiple calls and emails were made to officials at Lee County Schools to confirm the amount of local supplements offered to teachers in the district. The queries went unanswered.
“Everyone for the most part is 10% or above,” said Fleming. “I think we’re somewhere in that 7-8% range. My goal is try to get us to that average of 10%, somehow. I’d like to exceed 10%, but I’ll make it a measurable goal and an attainable goal by saying 10%.”
Teachers aren’t the only ones in need of more pay, as Fleming also recommended salary adjustments for classified staff. Citing a previous salary study of classified staff, Fleming said at least $1 million was needed to increase pay to at least market rate. Costs included employer-paid items such as insurance, retirement and social security.
HCS paid out a $500 annual bonus to classified staff in the past few years as a way to thank its employees for their hard work, but Fleming said something more permanent needs to be put on the table. HCS pays out more than $600,000 for the bonuses, including 29% for its employer portion.
“We’ve been doing this every year: taking it out of existing funds,” Fleming said. “We do not exceed any additional dollars for this, but it’s getting to a point that if we really feel like continuing this we’ll have to get additional local dollars. This is a huge amount. It may not be all of them, but those that are below market rate in the salary study, what would it take to increase everyone to at least market rate? It remains about $1.5 million to do that.”
Board of Education member Don Godfrey said HCS started looking into pay increases for its employees several years ago and have yet to see one while county commissioners regularly accomplish the feat for their staff.
“When the county did their salary study for their employees, how long was it before they actually saw some money?” asked Godfrey. “It was the next fiscal year. So we’re looking at 3 years. I’ll go back to what my pet peeve was to start with and that’s our classified employees are underpaid, overworked and they’re just not getting what they’re worth because of the workload that they carry. It’s time for the county to quit looking out for themselves as much and start looking out for our employees.”
Fleming also expressed his desire to increase benefits for HCS employees such as health insurance and retirement packages. All-in-all, Fleming’s wish list for HCS employees came in at slightly less than $3 million. Any increases in the school system’s budget first must pass the commissioners, who appropriate the money to HCS.