Failed Teacher Raises Raze Faith in County Competency

Camille Crumbley, Staff writer

When DeKalb County school teachers received their paychecks January 31, the numbers did not quite add up.

Earlier that week, Superintendent Dr. Steve Green told DeKalb teachers that they would be receiving raises of 2.5 percent in their COLA [cost of living adjustment] and a 1.3 percent step increase, which totals to 3.8 percent for the year. But when the paychecks came out, many teachers barely received any increases in their salary at all. Some saw increases ranging from two cents to 20 dollars — not anywhere near what they were expecting.

“The DeKalb County school board voted to give teachers raises, and the two raises were destined to be separated,” said science teacher DeAnn Peterson. “One was going to be a cost of living adjustment, which we got last August. And the second one was going to be a cost step increase, where we get paid for our years of experience.”

Teacher pay is usually increased based on their educational degrees and the number of years they’ve taught. This is called a step increase, which they receive each year.

“The county published what they had voted on as to what the raises would look like, and at the same time, we got a letter from human resources, direct and personalized with what we were going to receive for each pay period,” said Peterson. “And teachers started looking at the paychecks and these letters and they realized that nothing matched.”

Teachers across the county were up in arms about the jilted raises, taking to social media to post about their “raises.” Many were confused and upset, having expected much more money to be coming in.

Stan Jester requested a letter from the HR director to explain what happened,” said Peterson. “And the HR director wrote back and said the teachers just don’t understand steps and how much we were giving them — a pat-pat on the head kind of thing. Like teachers just don’t have the math brains to understand.”

But after further investigation by Chief Human Capital Management Officer Bernice Gregory, Green realized that the calculations were flawed. Green scrapped a video and letter he planned to release January 31 due to the miscalculations, and Gregory resigned February 1 over business concerning salary schedules.

On February 4, the school board went into a closed executive session to talk about the salaries. Discussing salaries is budgetary and is required to be open meeting, violating the Open Meetings Act, which sparked further criticism.

Green said the district will hire an outside firm to conduct analysis and has agreed with what critics have long said about resources in DeKalb Schools.

Peterson says mistakes like what transgressed with the raises is “classic DeKalb.”

“Things like this have happened so many times in my eighteen years here, but I’m still here because I love this school,” said Peterson. “It’s frustrating and demoralizing, but not unusual.”

Science teacher Marie Cabrices finds it hard to trust DeKalb when things like this happen.

“The mistakes in payroll are unthinkable,” said Cabrices. “We trust these people to make good decisions based on facts, based on math, but they failed. Now it is difficult to trust them with this, but we have no choice.”

The initial reason behind these raises and new salary schedule was to make pay more competitive with other counties to attract new employees, although DeKalb employees received an email on January 15 from Human Capital Management claiming the district’s salaries were already on par with neighboring districts. Although teacher walkouts to protest low wages have made news across the country, Georgia is a Right-to-Work state, meaning that certain jobs, including teachers, cannot go on strike or unionize for higher wages. Even so, some Chamblee teachers have joined professional organizations that give legal representation and protection.

“Every once in a while, situations come up for teachers that leave them legally vulnerable, and so what these organizations do is provide legal counsel and representation if something like that ever happens,” said social studies teacher Carolyn Fraser. “Environments have changed over the years that makes you feel more vulnerable so I finally did join NEA [National Educators Association].”

Peterson belongs to PAGE [Professional Association of Georgia Educators] and has a representative through the organization who goes to the Georgia legislature and makes sure the work that is being done is in line with teachers wants and needs. It also gives her access to a lawyer–but in the case of the raises, there is little the organization can do.

DeKalb has not released their plan to correct the raises, but hopes to fix the issue by spring.

“In the meantime, who knows what’s happening with the salaries,” said Peterson. “We have no clue what we’re going to get, what our raises are, if there are raises, or what our steps are.”