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Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools talk living wage proposal

A living wage is the salary required to live above the poverty line in a given area, said Bill Lester, an assistant professor at UNC specializing in economic development.

“Higher wages lead to a lower turnover rate, and people stay in their position for longer,” Lester said. “We’ve seen cities and local governments take on the issue of wage inequality but it hasn’t really swept through North Carolina in the same way. I would view this as a step in the right direction.”

The absence of a living wage drives employees away from the community, said CHCCS board member James Barrett.

“Given the cost it takes to live in Carrboro and Chapel Hill, a lack of a living wage forces community members to live further away and drive further to get here,” Barrett said. “If we pay a living wage then we would get employees who would be able to be a part of the community.”

Barrett said he is unaware of any objections from the board to implement the living wage.

Orange County commissioner Mark Dorosin said he thinks it’s important to implement a living wage for all workers in the county.

“Unless we take measures to address growing income disparities, we risk becoming a socio-economically homogenous community and losing the diversity that folks really value,” Dorosin said.

“It is critically important for public employers whose workers serve the interest of the community to compensate fairly.”

If the board decides to commit to a living wage, its budget would still require approval from the Orange County commissioners.

Commissioners made the decision several months ago to fund a living wage for county employees, Dorosin said.

“The real underlying principle is philosophical; if income equity is of important value, then we ought to make that a priority,” Dorosin said. “If they needed funds for the purpose of having a living wage then that’s something I would be behind.”

The wage increase would not apply to workers that are contracted by the school district, said Jeffrey Nash, site administrator for CHCCS.

The school board decided to move some custodial positions to contracting positions to cut costs, Nash said.

“We are still in the process of creating a new budget for next year,” Nash said. “If you increase salaries, that comes at a cost to some other part of the budget, so it becomes a matter of what are you going to give up.”

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