When teaching assistants first started showing up to New Hanover County Board of Education meetings, they asked for a raise in pay to a minimum of $17 an hour through COVID-19 relief funds.
The district will raise its minimum wage for teaching assistants to $14 an hour, and the state will increase that to $15 an hour starting in July 2022. While board members like Judy Justice pushed for more consideration of raising the minimum to $17 an hour, Mary Hazel Small, the district’s chief financial officer, said the district was not capable of using the COVID-19 funding for salary increases for staff that weren’t originally funded by those allotments.
“We have to start somewhere,” Justice said during the December board meeting, asking if it’s possible to start looking into making $17 an hour the minimum for teaching assistants.
Small said it would cost at a minimum $4-5 million more per year to increase hourly wages by another dollar, but noted that was a very rough estimate. She said the district’s human resources department could identify a salary scale based on a $17 an hour minimum, but it may be difficult to determine how to fund that increase.
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New Hanover County Schools received more than $95 million in aid from the state COVID-19 funding, Coronavirus Relief Fund, the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund, and three allotments from the Elementary and Secondary Relief Fund (ESSER). The district has only spent $10.7 million of that, or just under 12% of the total allotment, according to data provided to the StarNews by the school district.
Small said the ESSER funding could be used to create new positions in the district, but can’t be used for raises for staff that were not originally funded by ESSER.
The COVID-19 funding expires over time. It’s not permanent funding, so it’s difficult to plan something like salary increases around it, said New Hanover Superintendent Charles Foust.
The $560,000 the district received from the state COVID-19 funding expired June 30, and the more than $4 million it received from the Coronavirus Relief Fund expires Dec. 31. The district has used 99% of that funding.
Over the next three years, the other pots of funding will begin to expire as well. The $965,000 from the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund and the $6.6 million from the first ESSER allotment expires in September 2022, the $25.7 million from the second ESSER allotment expires in September 2023, and the $57 million from the third ESSER allotment expires in September 2024.
Of the ESSER allotments, the funds still have 66.1%, 86.78% and 99.58% remaining, respectively.
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The state also keeps track of where COVID-19 relief funds are used in each district. In New Hanover County, some of the top expenses include student computers and devices, where it spent nearly $1.5 million, and school nutrition, where it spent $790,542. It also allocated money to fund staff devices, mobile internet access, personal protective equipment, learning management systems and other resources.
The district said it would provide a $1,000 bonus to non-certified support staff like teaching assistants through the ESSER funding, and state funding will provide a $1,000 bonus to certified staff and teachers in January.
Reporter Sydney Hoover can be reached at 910-343-2339 or email@example.com.