RALEIGH, N.C. — Lots of North Carolina community college employees will be having fewer “happy holidays,” or at least paid ones.
A state audit released Thursday found more than half of the state’s 58 community colleges give their workers more paid holidays than the 12 that state and county employees receive.
State Auditor Beth Wood’s office uncovered the disparity while investigating a complaint to her hotline about one campus where employees received nearly double that number. That difference at Central Carolina Community College equaled hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries that other public employees could receive only through accumulated leave, the audit’s investigative report said.
Wood’s staff said the inconsistency occurred because the State Board of Community Colleges hasn’t adopted a policy addressing the issue, leaving it to local community college boards to decide.
State community college leaders say they will approve a rule requiring campuses to meet that standard and work to enforce it.
“Even though community colleges are managed by local boards of trustees, most employees’ salaries are paid with state funds and, as such, community colleges should conform with certain expectations and norms,” state board Chairman Scott Shook and system Acting President Jennifer Haygood wrote in a letter attached to the audit. “It is not good policy for community colleges to offer more paid holidays than the state government standard.”
Central Carolina, which operates campuses in Chatham, Harnett and Lee counties, gave workers 23 paid holidays during the past fiscal year, resulting in $862,424 in excess payments for the 11 extra days on which employees did not take their own paid leave, according to the audit. The additional days off included the day before Thanksgiving, Election Day, and several days in and around Christmas when students were on break.
The local board approved the expanded vacation as an employee benefit and recruiting tool, the audit said. The value of the additional holidays would equate to a 4.2 percent pay raise for employees when no additional money for salary increases were available, Central Carolina board Chairman Julian Philpott Jr. wrote in the campus’ response.
Philpott said the college didn’t violate any rules or laws because no guidance has existed on days off.
Central Carolina’s policy led auditors to ask the other community college campuses about their holiday policies and the number of holidays. In all, 31 colleges appear to have provided employees more than 12 paid holidays during the past fiscal year, the report said. The trustee board at Central Carolina, which had the most paid holidays, changed its policy last year to 12 days.
The North Carolina public schools and University of North Carolina system direct its employees to receive 12 paid holidays, just like other rank-and-file state workers under the law. When UNC system schools are closed, employees must use paid leave or other accrued time to be off at that time, the report said.
Auditors said the issue of paid holidays on local campuses surfaced in 2003 and again in 2014, but the state board or community college system office didn’t provide guidance or clarification on expectations.