PSRC board members discuss ways to pay teachers more and keep them

By Bob Shiles -

Thomas Benson III

Erica Setzer

PEMBROKE — Larger stipends and more lucrative benefits are needed to attract and keep good teachers in the Public Schools of Robeson County, district leaders were told Saturday.

Many teachers are choosing to work in adjacent counties’ school systems because of better incentives, including supplements and signing bonuses, Thomas Benson III, assistant superintendent of Human Resources, told school board members during an informational retreat.

“A lot of teachers are leaving,” Benson said. “Last year at this time, because of resignations and retirements, we were down 25 teachers. This year we are up to 45 teachers short.”

Benson said Hoke County pays its teachers a 6 percent salary supplement. Cumberland County teachers get an 8.5 percent supplement added to their base salaries.

Money is a big factor in recruiting and keeping teachers, Benson said. He recommended that he and Erica Setzer, the district’s finance officer, be authorized to meet with the Robeson County Board of Commissioners and ask for extra money so the salary supplement for certified teachers can be increased by 1 percent.

It would cost $936,741 to increase the supplement by 1 percent, money the PSRC does not have, Setzer said.

“To come up with this much money you would have to eliminate some positions from your budget,” she said.

Board member Brian Freeman, a former Robeson County teacher now working in Cumberland County, said the school board should “challenge” the commissioners to match any funds the school board appropriates for supplements.

“I want to challenge the commissioners to match what we offer,” he said. “If we offer 1 percent and the commissioners do the same, we can at least provide a salary supplement larger than Hoke County.

Board members also agreed the administration should examine the cost of giving teachers a sign-on bonus if they choose to work in Robeson County.

The district already has enough Title II funds to cover sign-on bonuses, Setzer said. Title II funds are federal dollars to be used for teacher recruitment and retention.

Saturday was the second consecutive day that board members met at COMtech in Pembroke to discuss such issues as Hurricane Matthew recovery, salaries and bonuses, the exceptional children’s program, and employee pay scales.

After a lengthy discussion of the exceptional children’s program, board members indicated they would like to “completely revamp” a system not in compliance with state and federal regulations, and without a director for the past year.

For the program to run efficiently a new director and two school psychologists need to be hired, said Elizabeth Younce, assistant superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction. The work load is too great for the district’s three psychologists, and testing of exceptional children is behind schedule, she said.

The exceptional children’s program has been the source of most of the litigation the system has faced over the past 10 years, said Grady Hunt, the district’s attorney.

“If there is an area that can land you in court, it’s the area of exceptional children,” Hunt said.

In an issue related to Hurricane Matthew recovery, board members agreed with a recommendation by board member Randy Lawson that a part-time employee be hired to assist Hugh McIlwain, the district’s director of Internal Affairs and Finance, during the period he is pursuing reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for storm-related recovery work.

The woman who will be hired for the position is retired and in the past has “come in and trained our payroll people on a part-time basis,” Setzer said.

Thomas Benson III Benson III

Erica Setzer Setzer

By Bob Shiles

Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.

Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.

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