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Durham Public Schools' students could be forced to make up days if there are any more staff sickouts

Superintendent Catty Moore speaks at a podium that displays the Durham Public Schools' logo.
Liz Schlemmer
Durham Public Schools' new interim superintendent Catty Moore takes public questions about the district's issues with paying classified staff at a press conference, February 14, 2024.

Students in Durham Public Schools may be forced to make up lost school days, if the district’s workers stage another walkout.

Interim Superintendent Catty Moore made the announcement at a press conference on Wednesday.

Moore explained that DPS, like many districts, schedules more school days each year than is required by state law so that students can miss some days without needing to make them up.

She said the district is still working to determine exactly how many more days students can miss before the district must use make-up days.

“Either one or less,” Moore said. “We’re still waiting on that, because not all schools have had the same number of days out.”

Administrators and DPS Board members are still working out how to pay the district's 2,200 classified staff for the rest of the school year. Classified staff and the Durham Association of Educators (DAE) have organized sickouts over the past several weeks that have led to four days of school closings.

School board chair Bettina Umstead didn't reveal how the school board might vote at its meeting next week on pay proposals, but she said the board wants all employees to have a raise compared to the prior school year.

“The raises that our staff received from July through January were unsustainable financially for our district,” Umstead said. “What we do know is whatever solution that we input, we want all employees to receive a raise.”

The school board has twice postponed a vote on how to pay classified staff for the rest of the school year, after a salary study the district implemented in October turned out to be about $9 million dollars over budget for the year. When the district tried to revoke those raises in January by reducing some staff members’ years of state service, employees began staging walkouts.

DAE led two of the “days of protest” to make specific demands of the school board. Umstead said the school board is planning to meet with DAE this Thursday to begin conversations about the pay issue.

Superintendent Pascal Mubenga resigned last week. He had indicated in public meetings that he saw “flaws” in a salary study conducted by HIL Consultants last year. The salary study was intended to raise staff pay to a rate that would be competitive with other school districts and employers.

“The more we continue to understand each individual within the salary study, the more questions that have arisen,” Umstead said. “I think we need to take a step back and evaluate that whole compensation study.”

Moore and Umstead also indicated that the school district might request more funding from Durham County Commissioners next year, as the district is currently in the process of preparing its county funding request for the upcoming school year.

Umstead said she has spoken to the chair of the county commissioners who “is eagerly awaiting for Durham Public Schools to bring a proposal.”

“I would suspect that yes, there will be an ask,” Moore added.

Moore said the challenges of trying to pay school employees a fair and competitive wage, with limited funding from the state and county, is not unique to Durham.

“This is a challenge that most school districts across this country and in North Carolina face,” Moore said.

Umstead did not reveal any details about how district officials negotiated with a group of transportation supervisors and mechanics to reopen school after they staged the most recent sickouts that closed all schools on Friday of last week and Monday of this week.

“I had some conversations this weekend with employees to understand the needs and the concerns that they have,” Umstead said. “The goal is through these continued conversations and proposing solutions that we hopefully don't see any more walkouts.”

Moore, a former superintendent at Wake County Schools, said she does not plan to stay in the job permanently.

“This is a short term gig,” Moore said. “My role really here is to deal with the day-to-day issues that are important, that are necessary, guided by the board as they prepare to hire the next superintendent.”

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