Rep. Price on DHHS pay controversy: 'teachers...given the shaft' - WNCN: News, Weather

Rep. Price on DHHS pay controversy: 'teachers...given the shaft'

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From left to right: DHHS Communications Director Ricky Diaz, DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos, DHHS Chief Policy Advisor Matthew McKillip From left to right: DHHS Communications Director Ricky Diaz, DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos, DHHS Chief Policy Advisor Matthew McKillip

Democratic Congressman David Price is weighing in on the controversy surrounding raises at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. 

Earlier this year, a handful of staffers received raises in excess of $20,000 a year, at a time when teachers and other state employees are undergoing a pay freeze.

"Nobody would care about that story if teachers had not been given the shaft," Representative Price told WNCN on Wednesday. "But they have been and that's why it's a story and that's why the Governor and the General Assembly ought to take a lot of grief over it."

On Wednesday, the liberal advocacy group ProgressNC delivered a petition with more than 19,000 signatures to DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos, calling on her to take back raises given as part of promotions to Communications Director Ricky Diaz and Chief Policy Advisor Matthew McKillip. Both men served on McCrory's campaign for governor last year and received raises of more than $20,000 a year in April, bumping both their salaries up to nearly $90,000 a year.

Neither Wos or Diaz met with protestors. Katy Munger helped deliver those petitions.

"There is nothing a 24-year-old can bring to the table that is worth $85,000 or $87,500 a year," Munger said.

READ MORE: More raises at DHHS; McCrory memo ordered cutbacks

In June, Anthony Vellucci, the information technology director for the state's new Medicaid bill paying system called NC FAST (North Carolina Families Accessing Services Through Technology), also received a "retention adjustment" raise of $23,000 a year, bringing his annual salary to $168,000. The raise comes as a number of localities across the state have criticized the program, saying it's been anything but fast, leading to backlogs for some people trying to file claims.

Those raises came just weeks after Governor McCrory issued a memo to state agencies urging them to limit salary increases because of huge Medicaid cost overruns. He did cite promotions as one exception.

In an interview with WNCN last week, Governor McCrory defended some of those raises, saying the men were well-qualified, though he has not spoken out specifically about Vellucci's raise.   WNCN has reached out to Diaz repeatedly for comment, but the station has not received a response.

Letter From a School Principal

Meanwhile, an elementary school principal in Fayetteville is also weighing in.  Peggy Raymes, Principal of Margaret Willis Elementary School wrote Governor McCrory concerned about those raises.  She says teachers deserve better.

The full letter is below:

Dear Governor McCrory,

I am the principal at Margaret Willis Elementary school in Cumberland County. I have a dedicated staff that has been working "on their own time" this summer to be ready for our boys and girls next week. They have not been paid to attend training or prepare classrooms during their " vacation." They do this because they are dedicated professionals who see the big picture, when it comes to the impact and the value of public education, on our future. I am concerned that the 2 young men referenced in this report have been awarded substantial pay increases because of their job performance. I am extremely discouraged that these 2 young men were given those pay increases when I have teachers in my building who have been working for 8 years, and are still only receiving a " 3rd year " teacher salary. I am struggling to understand what type of job performance constitutes a 37% salary increase, when the students at my school, (with a free and reduced lunch population of 80%), have made high academic growth for the past 5 years on our NC End of Grade tests. Would that type of job performance not warrant some type of salary increase? As a veteran educator with 30 years of experience, and as a Commissioner from Stedman, N.C. I would respectfully like to request the opportunity to sit down and talk with you, Governor; but what I would really like to happen, is for you and my legislators to come and spend one day at Margaret Willis Elementary School, or any public school in NC, for that matter. I believe that after that encounter you would be able to find alternative measures for balancing the state budget. I do not believe you are the kind of man who would sacrifice the future of the children of our state, but I do believe that you are listening to advisors who do not have a clear picture of the benefits of a sound and free public education; nor do they understand the impact their recent decisions are having on our schools, and ultimately the future of our state. So, my question, Governor McCrory….do we give 37% pay increases to young men who worked for your campaign, or do we pay the teachers in North Carolina a fair wage? I look forward to hearing from you.

Peggy Raymes
Margaret Willis Elementary School

Derick Waller

Derick is a reporter for WNCN covering crime, education, politics and just about everything in between. He has a knack for adapting to any story and consistently delivers information quickly across multiple platforms. More>>

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