RALEIGH — Through records requests, North State Journal has learned that the budgetary running total for Wake County Public Schools Office of Equity Affairs is over $8.69 million.
In 2014, the point when the Office of Equity Affairs (OEA) was formed in Wake County Public Schools (WCPSS), the budget for the office was $250,519. That budget would grow to a high of $1,631,781 during the 2019-20 school year.
Staff salary and benefits make up a large part of the department’s annual budget. In 2021-22, compensation for the current five OEA staffers totaled $509,549. Two members of the OEA departed in 2021, OEA Assistant Superintendent Rodney Trice and Director Lauryn Mascareñaz.
Trice resigned his position in May of 2021, following North State Journal reporting on an “Intro to Critical Race Theory” course being offered to teachers in the district as well as talking points Trice gave to the WCPSS board denying the use of Critical Race Theory by the district.
The Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools district subsequently hired Trice as the district’s Chief Equity and Engagement Officer with an annual compensation of around $161,940. At the time of his departure from WCPSS, Trice had been paid $141,767.
On Nov. 23, 2021, Mascareñaz announced on Twitter she was leaving the department and would be working at a RISE DEI, a “strategic equity” consulting group she has apparently co-founded with Christina Spears, a special assistant within the OEA and who is also the vice president of the Wake County Association of Educators.
Mascareñaz’s annual salary at the time of her resignation was $83,309, well above the average salary of a classroom teacher.
Records show the cost of OEA workshops, training, and related expenses also increased over the years. A consolidated summary by description and year reveals a total amount of over $2.64 million.
Some of the largest training expenditures made by the OEA involved training provided by The Equity Collaborative. Examples include the OEA paying The Equity Collaborative upwards of $76,000 in Sept. 2017 and $27,000 for professional development and training during the 2019-20 school year.
WCPSS formed the OEA in 2014 following an agreement between the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the district. The agreement was tied to a complaint filed by the North Carolina NAACP, the NC ACLU, and various social and racial justice groups, including the activist group the Education Justice Alliance.
The complaint covers the use of School Resource Officers in schools with regard to the alleged “school to prison pipeline” which posits there is a higher rate of suspension of Black and minority students versus that of white students.
The OEA’s page housed on the WCPSS website says the office is “committed to working to eliminate racial or socioeconomic inequities within our school system by eliminating achievement gaps and disparities in student discipline.”
Various initiatives such as “Equity Coaching,” “Cultural Proficiency Training,” “Equitable Discipline Practices” and “Restorative Justice” are displayed on the website. However, there are no metrics or measures of accountability related to the effectiveness of the OEA’s endeavors.
Responding to a 2020 records request, WCPSS Communications Director Tim Simmons said, “While there are individual employee goals, there is no such document for the office overall. For that reason, there is no record responsive to your request for metrics used to measure the Office of Equity Affairs over time.”
Simmons went on to say, “There is a website for equity initiatives, but in reviewing that page after receiving this request it is obvious it needs updating. We will tend to that asap.”