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From ‘first perusal’ to ‘a failure of communication’: Chronology of a crisis

Durham Public Schools are in chaos over wage disputes for classified workers. If you’re just tuning in, it may be difficult to understand what happened, and when. Here are some key dates. 

January 12, 2023: The results of a study by HIL Consultants, which cost “$78,000 plus expenses” to conduct, were presented to the Board of Education. The 39-page report recommended raised salaries for classified workers. HIL group representatives estimated the cost of the raises at approximately $10.8 million. They noted that this figure was merely based on their “first perusal” using job experience within the state system only. 

October 2023: Around 2,200 Durham Public Schools classified employees — nurses, cafeteria workers, instructional assistants, maintenance staff and others — received pay raises, including back-pay to the beginning of July. DPS implemented the raises after a compensation study recommended it pay staff more equitable, competitive wages. 

The Durham Association of Educators, Durham’s local teacher’s union, said on Facebook, “Workers made life altering decisions based on those raises… Some upgraded their apartments or cars or childcare. Some quit second and third jobs.” 

November 8, 2023: Then-finance director Paul LeSieur informed then-Superintendent Pascal Mubenga that staff salary increases would cost millions more than budgeted. 

January 11, 2023: Superintendent Mubenga informed the school board that the promised raises would put DPS millions over budget.  

January 12, 2024: Via email, DPS told staff its budget could not accommodate all the raises, blaming the change on an “accounting error.” The mistake affected roughly 1,300 of the schools’ 2,200 classified workers. 

January 17, 2024: Many transportation workers did not show up to work. As a result, DPS canceled numerous bus routes, urging families to drive their children to school. 

January 26, 2024: The Board of Education voted unanimously to continue paying classified workers raised rates through the end of January. The board pulled $4.5 million from its fund balance — the district’s budget reserves — to cover the salaries. 

DPS Chief Finacial Officer Paul LeSieur resigned, effective January 31. LeSieur worked for the school system since 2011. 

January 31, 2024: DPS closed 12 schools for the day after hundreds of school employees across Durham called in sick. Employees and supporters gathered to protest outside DPS’ Minnie Forte-Brown Staff Development Center, let by the Durham Association of Educators. 

February 5, 2024: The DAE organized a second day of protest, demanding no pay cuts and consideration for workers’ job prior experience. Seven schools closed due to staff shortages. 

February 7, 2024: Superintendent Mubenga resigned after a 7-year tenure. Mubenga will receive $297,759 in severance pay. 

The board also released a report from an internal review examining the cause of the salary issues. It blamed a “failure of communication from the finance officer about the true cost of the proposed changes.” According to the review, former CFO Paul LeSieur knew in February 2023 that the raises could cost up to $20 million. Mubenga first learned of the budget shortfall in November and told two board members the following month. He informed the rest of the board on January 11, the day before 1,300 classified workers were notified of pay cuts to come. 

February 8, 2024: In a unanimous decision, the board voted to continue paying classified workers raised rates through the end of February. 

DPS named Catty Quiroz Moore as interim superintendent. Moore is a member of the North Carolina State Board of Education and served as superintendent in Wake County until 2023. 

February 9, 2024: All Durham Public Schools closed due to transportation staff shortages, including shortages of mechanics and transportation supervisors.

February 12, 2024: All Durham Public Schools closed again due to transportation staff shortages.

February 22, 2024: The school board voted to give all DPS classified workers a flat 11% raise over their 2022-23 salaries through the end of the school year, with two board members, Emily Chavez and Alexandra Valladeres, voting no. The decision angered many classified workers, who will now make more than last school year, but less than they received in October.  

The decision was based on a report by Kerry Crutchfield, a contracted comptroller whom the district hired to investigate its finances. Crutchfield found fundamental flaws in the study conducted by HIL Consultants that was the basis for calculating the October raises. His presentation says the raises were never in DPS’ budget — a claim the HIL group has since disputed. 

March 21, 2024: Crutchfield recommended DPS overhaul its pay structure for classified workers as it sets next year’s budget. He said Durham should abandon the “steps” pay system, which calculates workers’ pay based on years of relevant experience, in favor of a system based on state pay ranges.

Editor’s note: This timeline has been updated to reflect ongoing developments.