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Additional closures could change Durham’s school calendar

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(The Center Square) – Students in Durham could be required to make up school days lost to employee walkouts over an ongoing pay dispute if it’s not soon resolved, district officials said Wednesday.

Catty Moore, interim superintendent of Durham Public Schools, said at a press conference there’s currently “one or less” days left before the district will need to rework its calendar to comply with state law on minimum hours of required instruction.

“We’re not there yet, but we will be if we have additional school closures,” she said. “We will need to look at days that right now are scheduled to be student holidays, or staff holidays, and we will need to look to see whether or not those need to be student days.”

The comments follow a fourth day of canceled classes in Durham Public Schools on Monday due to transportation employees who have refused to come to work over promised pay raises the district now contends are unaffordable. The district includes the city of Durham and Durham County, serving about 32,000 students.

The issue stems from a salary study implemented by the district in October that was later revealed to be $9 million over budget for the year. The walkouts began shortly after district officials in January attempted to reduce applicable years of service for pay calculations to make up the difference.

The Durham Association of Educators led some of the walkouts and have made specific demands that include raises of $6,000 and $8,000 for teachers, a $3 per hour raise for all staff, 300 new positions across the district, and 10 days of “protected workdays” – including five in place of instructional days. The association is also demanding “a seat at the table for public school workers.”

“The solution is a historic budget negotiated by the people who know best what students need. If we can unite enough DPS staff AND public school parents/community supporters, we will have the power to win the public schools we all deserve,” the association posted to Facebook.

District officials are slated to meet with association representatives. Public sector unions are not permitted in the state; the district is under no obligation to the association.

School board Chairwoman Bettia Umstead said Wednesday the board is reviewing options to resolve the pay dispute and “want all employees to receive a raise,” but signaled they may not be what were promised.

“What we know is the raises that our staff received from July through January were unsustainable financially for our district,” Umstead said.

The debacle led to the resignation last week of superintendent Pascal Mubenga, who left with a $297,000 severance package. The board agreed to pay Moore, a veteran administrator who most recently led Wake County schools from 2018-23, $25,000 a month, plus $610 a week for lodging and expenses because she lives in Union County.

Moore and Umstead confirmed the district will likely look to Durham County to help fund a solution for the pay dispute, as well as other cost increases in the district’s 2024-25 budget proposal.

“I have spoken to the chair of the county commission and she is eagerly awaiting for Durham Public Schools to bring a proposal, so the Board of Education needs to make a decision about long-term funding solutions,” Umstead said.

District officials suggested previously that decision could come in late February.

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