Northampton BOE gives itself a raise

Published 9:35 am Tuesday, July 5, 2016

JACKSON – By a split, 3-2 vote here last week, the Board of County Commissioners elected to support a request by the Northampton County Board of Education to raise the monthly per diem that BOE members receive by $200.

County Manager Kimberly Turner shared a letter written by Northampton Schools Superintendent Dr. Monica Smith-Woofter requesting the increase, which the BOE had already approved.

The request was just for permission from the commissioners because it was already in the BOE’s budget for this year.

Woofter wrote, “The Board of Education has expressed that they wish to receive a per diem increase for the upcoming school year. The BOE members are currently paid $400 per month, while the Chair is paid $450.

“This serves as written notification to the Board of Commissioners that the BOE is requesting a $200 monthly per diem increase for BOE members beginning with the 2016-2017 fiscal year,” wrote Woofter.

“This per diem increase is not an additional request for new funds,” Woofter wrote. “This increase has been budgeted within the [school district’s] current expense allocation as presented in the proposed budget.”

When Turner finished reading the letter, she reminded the commissioners that they rejected the per diem increase request when the school board’s budget was first presented in May,

When the matter was brought to the commissioners by Turner, Commissioner Joseph Barrett responded, “All you have to do is ask any member of the public, ‘Would this be a good idea.’ I don’t think it is.”

Commissioner Robert Carter said, “I agree with you whole heartily, but I make the motion to approve the school board request for an increase in per diem.”

Chairwoman Fannie Greene asked for a second to the motion, but none was offered. However, she said no second was needed and called for the vote.

That prompted Barrett to ask for more discussion.

“Mr. Carter, you said you agreed with me,” Barrett said, which generated laughter among the commissioners and the audience, “and then you made a motion to approve it.”

Carter replied, “I said I agreed with you, but being as they (BOE) already have it in their budget…”

Barrett interrupted to say, “They will be the highest paid Board of Education in the Roanoke-Chowan area. And are the lowest performing school district.”

Greene asked if there were any more discussion, which prompted Barrett to exasperatedly say, “I know, I’m going out,” in reference to his primary election loss in March, which also brought the laughs from the public.

Greene said she agreed with Carter that it doesn’t take any additional county funds because the per diem increase is already in the BOE budget.

She called for the vote, which was initially 2-2, with Carter and Chester Deloatch voting to approve the per diem increase, while Barrett and Virginia Spruill voted against it.

Greene then announced that she would cast her tiebreaking vote for the increase.

“It’s three for and two against,” Greene said, “so the motion passes.”

Citizen comments followed the vote. Tim Hollowell wanted Barrett to repeat that the Northampton BOE would be the highest paid school board in the lowest performance district.

Barrett did not respond.

Hollowell then invited the commissioners to sign a petition against school board plans to close the Creeksville campus of Northampton County High School. The commissioners did not respond.

Later during citizen comments, Arthur Vann said, “We’re a Tier I county. This $200 increase is not going to sit well with a lot of citizens.”

During commissioner comments, Carter said he took Vann’s and Hollowell’s comments seriously, adding that the per diem increase does not include more funding from the county.

“They had it in their budget,” Carter said, “and they may have gone ahead and done it anyway unbeknowing to us.”

Greene followed with, “I agree with that totally. We’re trying to work with the school board. They still have the right to sue us.”

In a telephone interview since the commissioners’ meeting, Smith-Woofter said the county has raised its own per diem three times since school board members last got an increase.

“The school board was just aligning its per diem with the county commissioners,” she said.

Smith-Woofter said the commissioners have been getting $592 per month while BOE members got $400. With the $200 increase, BOE members will get $600 per month, about the same as the county commissioners.