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‘Slap in the face’: N.C. DPI employees saw raises, elevated pay as teachers wait for salary increase

WBTV Investigates: The raises and inflated salaries at the state’s education office come as classroom teachers continue their years-long wait to see increase in pay
Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 5:58 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Some top employees at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction have seen double-digit raises since Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt took office in January, records show.

Other employees, hired by Truitt as she settled into the job earlier this year, were hired at above-market rates.

The raises and inflated salaries at the state’s education office come as classroom teachers and other frontline educators continue their years-long wait to see any increase in their pay scale.

Read: Salaries and pay increases for DPI Employees

Outside of scheduled step increases for qualifying teachers, there have not been any pay raises for teachers in more than two years, as Governor Roy Cooper and Republican leaders in the legislature have been unable to agree on a budget.

WBTV analyzed data obtained through the Office of the State Controller tracking changes in salary for DPI throughout 2021. The data shows people joining the agency, leaving the agency and whose salaries at the agency change.

The data showed the following:

*Five people earning a salary outside the maximum for their position classification (this includes one employee who was hired in one position this year but later promoted to a different position at the same salary level, within the position classification’s max range).

*30 DPI employees making $100,000/year or more whose salary is above the midpoint of the salary range for their position classification.

*19 employees making at least $75,000/year that received a raise this year of 10% or more. Ten employees in that category received a raise of at least 20%. The top employee to get a raise this year received a 61% pay increase, from $74,313 to $120,000.

Pay for employees who work for the state is governed by pay scales set by N.C. Office of State Human Resources.

Each employee is given a position classification and a corresponding pay scale. The scale includes a minimum salary and maximum salary, as well as a midpoint salary within that range.

By law, the Council of State offices, including DPI, can pay employees up to ten percent more than the maximum allowed in the salary range.

The findings of our analysis surprised longtime elementary school teacher Sue Hooper, who works for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and has taught for more than 20 years.

“Frustration, mainly,” Hooper said of her reaction when she first looked at the data. “If we have that surplus of funds, especially this year, we really need to be putting that money closer to the students.”

Related: NC Superintendent talks teacher pay as state moves higher on salary rankings

Hooper said she classroom teachers’ jobs this year, after a year of virtual learning during COVID-19, have become even more difficult.

There is a shortage of teachers, which is being exacerbated by a steady stream of mid-year departures. There’s also a shortage of substitute teachers. And the state has raised the cap on the number of students that can be assigned to each classroom.

“We’re having a really hard time recruiting teachers now and we have a mass exodus of teachers leaving the district because we’re not respected and treated well,” Hooper said. “And I think the state just showed that even them don’t really respect us.”

Blair Rhoades, a spokeswoman for Truitt, refused to make her available for an interview, despite having more than a week of notice.

The statement read as follows:

“DPI is proud of the highly-qualified and experienced staff we’ve recruited in order to meet the needs of the field post pandemic, and we recognize the importance in paying staff their worth to ensure organizational stability for North Carolina’s 1.5 million students. Understanding that DPI has historically lost highly-qualified professional staff to other state agencies who were able to offer better and more competitive pay, the superintendent structured compensation to bring salary in line with industry standards and to be on par with what other agencies of similar size pay. DPI continues to operate within our allotted budget, but we have reallocated resources in order to build a department that is led by a highly-qualified and respected team who is prepared and capable of handling the new challenges of the K-12 education system post-COVID.”

Rhoades also defended the decision to give one employee a 61% raise by saying the raise was “to honor the terms and conditions that were promised when the person was initially hired.”

But, when pressed, Rhoades acknowledged the increased salary level was not part of the employees’ contracts.

Related: Thousands of NC teachers rally for higher pay, better school funding

It is not clear what role, if any, the State Board of Education has in overseeing salaries and pay raises for DPI employees.

Chairman Eric Davis did not respond to an email asking questions for this story.

Similarly, State Representative Jeffrey Elmore (R-Wilkes), a teacher who serves as vice-chair of the House Appropriations, Education committee, refused to be interviewed for this story.

Hooper said the pay raises for DPI employees is a further sign of disrespect by leaders in Raleigh.

“It really is a slap in the face to see that,” she said.

“Help your districts. We need more funding to hire teachers. We need more funding for curriculum to put in students’ hands,” Hooper said. “We need more bodies teaching kids in the classroom so that we can really move these kids to where they should be for their age and grade level.”

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