$500 raise a “slap in the face” for school bus drivers, teacher assistants and other public school employees

Bettina Vinson has driven a school bus in Wake County for 17 years, and when she learned that after years of frozen pay she would receive a $500 raise according to the budget proposal state legislators are debating now in Raleigh, she was shocked.

“It was like a slap in the face,” said Vinson.

Lawmakers have included in their 2014 budget proposal a $1,000 raise for most public employees, but non-teaching public school workers – teacher assistants, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and other non-certified and central office staff—will only see a $500 salary increase, if lawmakers pass the budget as it is currently written.

“Why are the N.C. State bus drivers, who are doing the same job and are driving older kids who are easier to manage getting a $1,000 pay raise when we’re driving small kids and doing the same work they are doing and getting $500?” said Vinson.

“I think it’s wrong because what people are not realizing is that we are the first ones that these children see in the morning,” said Vinson. “And we set the tone for the teachers. Sometimes you have kids who’ve had nothing to eat, and I buy food to keep on the bus because you know the ones who get on the bus without breakfast or supper the night before, and so I feed them.”

So far, not one lawmaker who has had a hand in crafting the budget proposal has explained why public school employees are getting the shaft.

“There is no rational reason you can tell me why a school maintenance worker gets $500 and another public employee gets $1,000,” said Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland). “Try it.”

Vinson explained the personal struggles that many public school workers face as the cost of living has gone up and salaries have stagnated.

“I figure I make about half of what I started out with when you think about the cost of living and the frozen pay,” said Vinson. “But these bus drivers with young families … it puts them on borderline poverty. You make too much to get any government assistance, but you make too little money to provide adequately for your family.”

Bus drivers, custodians, teacher assistants, and other public school employees have been meeting with legislators since March, said Brian Lewis, a lobbyist for Teamsters Local 391, which represents school bus drivers seeking better pay and working conditions.

“We were disappointed when we learned the House conceded to the Senate plan on differentiating pay for state employees who work in the public schools versus rank-and-file state employees,” said Lewis. “Our members have been calling legislators and Governor McCrory since Tuesday requesting that the budget be fixed.”

Diethea Williams is a teacher assistant in Guilford County who also called the $500 pay raise a slap in the face.

“How can Governor McCrory’s custodian at his executive mansion get a $1,000 raise, yet a custodian at a school, who does the exact same job get half of that?,” said Williams, who works with students with special needs.

“The Governor needs to veto this bill,” concluded Williams.

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