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‘Did you let ChatGPT write the budget?’

A pay dispute continues to roil Durham Public Schools. The district pledged raises to 2,200 non-certified employees, including cafeteria workers, custodians, therapists and more. It then reversed course with 1,300 of those workers, putting their future pay rates in question and sparking protests across the district.

Superintendent Pascal Mubenga resigned on Feb. 7 as a result of the turmoil, on the heels of a report stating that the promised raises would put the district roughly $9 million over budget. According to the report, Mubenga learned of the shortfall in November and informed the school board only in January.

Workers are anxiously awaiting the school board’s decision on how much they will be paid after this month. Meanwhile, all district schools were closed Friday and Monday after transportation support workers called in sick.

The issue has drawn protests from teachers, students and others. Kulsoom Rizavi, a 9th Street Journal photographer, photographed scenes from a large gathering on Jan. 31, while reporters Audrey Patterson and Gabrielle Lazor captured memorable moments.

In the morning, people gathered near the Durham Public Schools Staff Development Center to voice their discontent. A group representing Riverside High School huddled together, cheering and thrusting signs reading, “Our students deserve better” and,”Don’t give the praise, give the promised raise.”

As the group marched towards the sidewalk, a man with a megaphone led the group in a series of chants. “Respect our years,” he called. “Respect our voice,” the crowd answered.

Cars drove down Hillandale Road, slowing down and honking at the line, announcing their solidarity. The line cheered back at the cars and kept walking.

That afternoon, protests continued near the Fuller Building, a DPS office in downtown Durham. Less than an hour after it began, the parade circled the entire block.

A poster proclaimed “WTF…(Where’s the Funds?). “Did you let ChatGPT write the budget?” asked another sign.


For more about the ongoing DPS pay dispute, see our stories on the schools’ recent bus driver shortage a temporary pay reprieve for DPS workers, the superintendent’s resignation over the payroll fiasco, and our chronology of the crisis.

Pictured above (from top): Teachers, workers, students and parents demonstrating recently in support of school system workers, whose raises were recently cut after a series of budgeting errors. Photos by Kulsoom Rizavi — The 9th Street Journal