By Jennifer Pignolet, Commercial Appeal
Shelby County Schools plans to raise its minimum wage for all its employees to $15 an hour, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said.
That would mean increases for about 1,200 employees who currently make between $10.60 and $14.98. The majority of those currently make between $13 to $14.50 an hour.
The total cost will be $2.4 million, but only about $900,000 to the district’s general fund budget. Many of the low-wage employees are funded through federal grant programs like Title 1.
Many of the affected workers serve the district as teaching assistants, clerical assistants or secretaries or work in nutrition. Part-time employees are not included in the increase, a district spokeswoman said.
“We think it’s a huge opportunity to lead,” Hopson said. “It’s also a huge opportunity to honor Dr. King’s legacy.”
His announcement comes in the wake of a report from the National Civil Rights Museum and the University of Memphis that showed racially-associated poverty and income inequality persist in Memphis 50 years after King’s death.
“What was so striking to me is that poverty levels since 1968 in Memphis have actually gone up,” Hopson said. “Income gaps have gone up.”
Activists in Memphis have also been part of a national fight to raise the minimum wage for fast food employees to $15 an hour. In February, more than 500 people organized by the group Fight for $15 marched from Clayborn Temple to City Hall waving “I Am A Man” and “I Am A Woman” signs.
Hopson said a teaching assistant told him she was considering quitting her job to work at a mall because she could earn more there.
Now in the midst of planning for next year’s budget, Hopson and Chief Financial Officer Lin Johnson have been looking at how the district can make a difference.
“Lin and I have been thinking very deeply about how the Shelby County Schools can, in its own way and in a responsible way, address some of the poverty concerns we have here,” he said.
It’s extra important, Hopson said, as so many of their employees send their children to SCS schools. District leaders constantly lament the challenges that come with educating children who live in poverty.
Board members endorsed the idea, congratulating Hopson for leading on the issue across Memphis.
“This is a bold step for us to move forward as a district,” board chairwoman Shante Avant said.