Dare County Schools seek to tackle hiring challenges

By on June 29, 2023

Options from hardship loans to health insurance on the table

Superintendent Basnight notes that hiring teachers and other school personnel has been getting more difficult. (iStock)

Ideas ranging from tuition and training reimbursements and district-paid health care to hardship loans were floated at the first meeting of the Recruitment and Retention Committee, comprised of three Dare County Schools (DCS) Board of Education members and four DCS staff.

At its June 22 meeting, the committee outlined plans to send a survey to all DCS staff members, noting that the scope of its work will be largely directed by the responses it receives.

The committee’s work is designed to address the significant challenges of attracting and keeping staffers—from teachers to custodians—despite some daunting headwinds. According to numbers that DCS Superintendent Steve Basnight provided to the Voice, total school district vacancies have numbered more than 100 at the end of each of the past three school years.

“I think all the data that I have had access to shows it is getting more difficult for school systems across North Carolina to hire both certified and classified employees,” he said in an email to the Voice.

Discussing the work of the Recruitment and Retention Committee, Chairman Carl Woody stated, “Our goal is to come up with ways we can set Dare County above everybody else.” He, Mary Ellon Ballance and Susan Bothwell are the school board members on the committee.

“We’re trying to be the best of the best—so a lot of the work we’re going to do in this room is going to set us apart from other districts,” agreed Oliver Holley, DCS director of human resources and a committee member.  The other DCS staff committee members are Emily Santora, interim director of finance; Erren Gibbs, benefits specialist; and Hannah Nash, public information officer.

Holley displayed a draft Google Forms survey that will be sent to all staff members in the coming weeks. It asks staff to rate the importance of each proposed benefit, which include tuition or training reimbursement; district-sponsored health savings account (HSA); district-paid dental coverage; district-paid vision insurance; child care; district-paid health care ($25 per person per month); and a district 401K or 457 contribution.

During their discussion, committee members decided to add a question for staff to self-identify as either a certified or classified staff member. They also added potential benefits of remote optional teacher workdays; reimbursements for classroom or job-specific supplies; and an interest-free moving loan or hardship loan.

Holley added that getting the survey information back “will give us a kind of pulse on where we should kind of go, but definitely [we should consider] increases in salaries if we could…I still like anything around the health and wellness piece.”

While the need to recruit and retain teachers has been a frequent topic of discussion both statewide and locally, the number of total district vacancies underscores struggles in retaining both licensed teachers (certified employees) and other staff members (classified employees).

According to information from the DCS, there were 134 total vacancies following the 2020-2021 school year (58 certified and 76 classified). That number rose to 162 after the 2021-2022 year (87 certified and 75 classified), and as of June 28 of this year, the 2022-2023 tally is 108 total vacancies (57 certified and 51 classified).

According to job listings on the school website, 12 of the currently vacancies—including five custodian positions—have gone unfilled since before the last school year started.

Basnight told the Voice that recruitment and retention was one of his “four points of emphasis” when presenting this year’s budget before the school board. The other three were increasing learning, school safety and professional development.

“The very existence of the Retention and Recruitment Committee on the Board of Education is a testament to our commitment to make this issue a focal point in Dare County Schools,” Basnight said in an email to the Voice. “Our people matter, and we cannot just hope they understand that without making a point of letting them know it. In this case, our actions speak louder than words.”

Basnight noted the statewide nature of many recruitment and retention challenges and cited a number of contributing factors, including the loss of former state benefits like master’s pay and no-cost health insurance in retirement, perceptions of a lack of support for the education profession and a more competitive job market that offers higher wages for positions outside of schools.

When it comes to the Outer Banks in particular, Basnight pointed to a shortage of affordable housing options and the higher cost of living.

Basnight expressed appreciation for county commissioners in the past couple years funding an increase in the local supplement—money paid to teachers in addition to their state-funded salaries. He said district staff started researching local supplements that other school districts pay their employees in an effort “to begin the conversation of bringing our supplements in line with other similar school systems,” and this led to a review of both classified and certified pay scales.

Santora said at the June 22 meeting that the district implemented new classified pay scales at the start of the 2022-2023 school year.

“Up until this school year, when [classified staff] were hired, if you were brought in at this pay rate, you sat at that pay rate unless the state gave a cost-of-living raise,” she said. Now, just like teachers’ state pay increases with years of service, classified staff will annually “bump up as well.”

“I didn’t know anything about that,” Woody said in response, adding that this shows the need for “better marketing” of currently offered benefits.

The committee members agreed that some changes should be instituted as soon as possible, such as making the benefits package and what DCS currently offers—such as free entry to school sporting events for staff members—easy to find on the website.

Nash said she will soon be updating the BOSS (Businesses Offering Schools Support) program listings, which are discounts local businesses provide to school system employees.

Gibbs said the state just instituted paid parental leave for state employees, which means staff will no longer have to use sick days or unpaid leave for at least their first eight weeks of maternity leave or first four weeks of paternity leave.

The committee scheduled its next meeting for July 25 at 2 p.m.



Comments

  • Steven

    They teach our children, pay them better than someone that plays ball games and is a poor roll model..

    Thursday, Jun 29 @ 12:37 pm
  • Pat nash

    Better healthcare and for goodness sakes they need to pay weekly or by weekly .anything but once a month!!!!

    Thursday, Jun 29 @ 9:28 pm
  • Jeff Walker

    Wait so a school board member who is also chair of the committee responsible for figuring out how to hire more teachers doesn’t know anything about the incentives already being offered? What exactly is he bringing to the table here?

    Maybe someone more qualified, or frankly qualified at all would be a better choice for this job.

    Friday, Jun 30 @ 12:04 am
  • Frank

    um, maybe pay a living wage? No that makes to much sense for Dare County

    Friday, Jun 30 @ 4:33 pm
  • Nichol Thrash

    I can say since I have been employed, I had not gotten a real raise before this past fall of 22. I have been with DCBOE since Jan. 89 or 90, I think.
    But God…..

    Monday, Jul 3 @ 3:44 pm