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Buncombe school staff urge commissioners to raise wages

A parade of Buncombe County Schools employees dominated proceedings at the June 7 meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. During the council’s public hearing on the proposed budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year, a dozen BCS workers repeatedly called on commissioners to increase wages, particularly among support staff who have not no teaching certification.

The general fund budget of more than $399 million recommended by the county executive April Pinder is paying $81.9 million to BCS, an 11.9% increase over the 2021-22 fiscal year budget. This funding would increase all BCS salaries by 2.5% or at least $15 per hour, whichever is greater.

However, the budget does not fund nearly $8.1 million in cost-of-living salary increases requested by the BCS superintendent. Tony Baldwin in response to a salary survey conducted by Hickory-based HIL Consultants. Instead, the county proposed that these increases “be staggered over [the] the next two exercises (FY24 and FY25) in cooperation with Buncombe County Schools. »

As of June 8, the BCS website posted 77 vacancies in departments such as maintenance, custodial, transportation and nutrition. Hourly wages for posted jobs are as low as $13.68. Just Economics of WNC, a local economics and education nonprofit, has set the minimum hourly rate to cover the cost of living in Buncombe County at $17.70.

BCS employees who spoke to the board cited years of low and stagnant wages, increased responsibilities and understaffed departments. “We still have to work other jobs to make ends meet,” said Melanie Allen, a 26-year veteran of BCS’s technology department. “We are struggling. It feels like no one cares. Morale is low. We’ve seen other counties and agencies allow steps and increases. We keep thinking we’re next, that we can make it happen. Then nothing happens.

Chris Kingley, bus driver and teacher’s aide at Hominy Valley Elementary, continued on this theme. “What we are asking for is to be able to live off a full-time job without extra work. It wouldn’t be such a big ask if it hadn’t been left for so long. The check engine light has been on for a long time – now the engine is dead,” he said.

Kingsley compared the district’s wages for school bus drivers, which start at $13.68 an hour, to the city of Asheville’s transit bus driver training wages, set at $18. $.78 per hour. “It is the responsibility of employers to make jobs attractive,” he said. “And BCS jobs are not attractive at all.”

And jimmy brown, an eight-year veteran of BCS’s technology services department, asked commissioners to think about living solely on the salary each receives as an elected official. (The Commissioners each earn $28,916 per year, the Vice President Amanda Edwards earns $32,548 and chairman of the board Brownie Newman earns $37,650.) “That also represents the salary range for the vast majority of our full-time, non-certified employees,” he said. “We struggle to take care of our families, and it gets harder and harder for us as time goes on.”

None of the commissioners responded to BCS employees after the hearing or indicated that they would consider revising the budget in accordance with their requests. The council must vote on the adoption of the budget at its meeting on Tuesday, June 21.

In other news

County voters will see two bond proposals on their November ballots this year after commissioners voted unanimously to approve resolutions setting special bond referendums. If approved by the public, a $30 million free space bond would generate funds to purchase and improve land “for the conservation and protection of natural resources and the preservation of agricultural land, including, but not limited to the development of greenways and trails for recreational purposes. Another $40 million bond issue would support “housing investments for the benefit of low- and modest-income people.”

A presentation by the Deputy County Manager Sibyl Tate describes the county’s proposed oversight and transparency mechanisms for bond spending, including advisory boards, independent audits, and transparency websites. She noted that the county would hire two new staff members to manage bond projects through the 2032 spending deadline.

The board also unanimously approved a letter of support for a new health care facility in Buncombe County to meet a need for 67 acute care beds identified by the Department of Health Services Regulation. North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services in its 2022 state medical facilities plan. “The letter does not endorse any particular organization, but does endorse that we would like to see alternatives, and possibly the presence of a nonprofit,” Newman noted. Mission Hospital, operated by for-profit HCA Healthcare, has been Buncombe’s sole hospital provider since 1995.

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