Commissioners balk at pay hike

Published 12:40 pm Wednesday, November 17, 2010

WINDSOR – The Bertie County Commissioners voted 3-1 on Monday night not to support the Bertie County Board of Education’s request for a raise on the amount local school board members receive for additional monthly meetings.

In a letter to the Commissioners dated November 4, Bertie Board of Education Chair Gloria Lee stated, “In the last three months, we (collectively and/or individually) have had multiple meetings as we have worked closely with the superintendent to resolve financial and other issues.”

The letter later continued, “As a result of the numerous meetings and interaction, we are requesting your support as we are recommending some adjustments to our compensation for the 2010-2011 school year.”

No change was requested to the payment school board members receive for their regular meeting each month, but the board is seeking an additional $150 payment per member for the first additional monthly meeting, as well as $100 for a second additional monthly meeting.

At Monday’s Bertie County Commissioners meeting, Commissioner Rick Harrell noted, “I did some math and came up with $15,000 that this could cost in a year – five board members times $250 a month for 12 months.”

Vice-Chairman L.C. Hoggard, reading from a pre-prepared statement, said, “I can appreciate the members of the school board or any person feeling that there should be additional compensation for what they are doing. I know that as a Board you have been working hard for the students and parents of Bertie County.  In times of prosperity there would probably not be a second thought about granting you your request.  However, notice what I said, “in times of prosperity.” We are facing a harsh economic reality in this country, state and in our county. People are struggling. People are losing their jobs. My fear is that for us to grant a raise for anyone at this point would be a slap in the face of what is decent for today’s situation.”

He continued, “The school board, like us commissioners, have been elected and called to serve the best interest of our citizens. Sure there are token measures of appreciation to board members, but we serve because we want to protect the best interest of our public and its citizens. Based upon principal (sp), I cannot agree to a raise for any public servant at this point. This may be something that we can look at once the tide of economic downfall starts to change, but at this point we need to stay put and send the message that our students and citizens come first. I would have to vote no, at this time.”

Commissioner Wallace Perry added, “Well stated, and I totally agree with you.”

Harrell stated, “I totally agree with you too.”

Commissioner Charles Smith noted, “Well stated, but I don’t agree with you.  They’re the lowest-paid board in the state and they deserve a raise.”

Harrell made a motion to support Hoggard’s statement as the board’s official position on the raise request, with Perry offering a second.  The motion passed 3-1 with only Smith voting against it.  Chairman Norman Cherry Sr. was not present at the meeting.

It was not clear as of press time on Wednesday as to the Board of Education’s official response to the Commissioner’s statement.

Board member Pamela Chamblee told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald in a phone interview, “I think that they (the Commissioners) made a very wise decision and we’re going to take everything that they recommended into consideration and we’re going to pretty much just try to tighten our belts as much as we can, and try to get everything into our regular meeting and cover as much ground so that we don’t have to schedule as many other meetings.  I thank the Commissioners for their insight and their wisdom under the leadership of Zee Lamb and I will continue to ensure the two boards work together as much as we possibly can.”

Chamblee’s statement is not the official position of the Bertie County Board of Education, as Board Chair Gloria Lee was not available for comment.

It was at the school board’s regular monthly meeting on November 4, two days after the election, that the board voted 3-2 to make the raise request.  Board members Alton Parker and Rickey Freeman made the dissenting votes.

According to North Carolina law, the local school board was required to seek the county commissioner’s opinion on the matter, but is not obligated to follow it.