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Durham Public School’s Board of Education delays vote on how to pay classified staff

The Durham Public Schools board of education met Friday to discuss options for how to pay the district's classified staff for the rest of the school year.
Liz Schlemmer
The Durham Public Schools Board of Education met Friday, February 2, 2024 to discuss options for how to pay the district's classified staff for the rest of the school year.

Roughly 2,200 classified staff working in Durham public schools will have to wait at least another six days before the Board of Education takes up the questions of how to pay them for the rest of the school year.

“Tonight we had a really rich and robust conversation and the community got to see we’re tussling between what feels like impossible solutions to a really challenging problem,” Board Chair Bettina Umstead said in her closing remarks.

In a 5-4 vote, the board moved to table the discussion until next Thursday, February 8.

The school board also voted unanimously to terminate its contract with HIL Consultants. That's the firm that wrote a salary study that initiated recent changes to the district’s salary schedules that put the school system over budget by about $9 million.

The board also voted to hire Kerry Crutchfield as an independent comptroller to serve the board and assist the school board’s attorney, Rod Malone, in an investigation into how the district paid out the un-budgeted raises. Crutchfield was a longtime budget director for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. Their investigation will result in a final memo.

School board member Alexandra Valladares made a motion to immediately release that that memo include when Durham Public Schools’ former CFO Paul LeSieur knew that the raises paid to staff in October were over budget; when Superintendent Pascal Mubenga knew that the raises were over budget; and when Mubenga informed each board member. That motion failed.

Later in the meeting, board member Jovonia Lewis moved for those questions to be answered in the final report from the investigation. The board passed that motion unanimously.

The school board also voted unanimously to start a conversation with leadership of the Durham Association of Educators to begin a “meet-and-confer” process about the ongoing pay issue. Board members described this as a public process for meeting regularly with an employee association in instances where collective bargaining is not allowed. In North Carolina, state employees – including public educators – are not legally allowed to collectively bargain contracts.

Symone Kiddoo, president of the Durham Association of Educators, indicated during the public comment period that educators might stage more ‘sickouts’ if the association was not invited into conversations about a solution to the unbudgeted raises.

“If demands are not met – no unilateral pay cuts, no restoration of steps, and a meet-and-confer policy – worker protests are likely to continue,” Kiddoo told the board.

Finally, the board voted to appoint Cierra Ojijo as the new interim CFO for the school district, formalizing her recent appointment as acting CFO.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect the votes on two motions that happened during the Friday school board meeting.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email:
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