By Brandon Martin
Henry County School officials discussed anticipated needs and anticipated funding that must be in place to pay for those needs during a joint meeting Tuesday with the Henry County Board of Supervisors.
“As proven by the pandemic, our staff are essential,” Schools Superintendent Sandy Strayer said when discussing pay increases for teachers and staff. “We need to recruit, retain, and train a high-quality, diverse staff to provide our students with opportunities and experiences they need to be competitive in a global market. This wonderful staff that we will attract and retain will help each student achieve his/her potential and therefore be a contributing member of the community and to our workforce.”
She said the division intended to address gaps in step increases for teachers in the previous school year, but were derailed by the pandemic.
David Scott, assistant superintendent of Operations and Administrative Services, said he expects budget priorities to require an additional $2.5 million in the budget.
“That in no way indicates what we would be asking of the Board of Supervisors above level funding,” Scott said. “That’s just sort of a marker, for the time being, of the estimated costs of these things.”
Each priority would account for a portion of the overall $2.5 million increase. Among the top priorities listed were step increases for all employees on the teacher scale (47 percent), step increases for those on the classified scale (12 percent), a percentage increase for administrators (six percent), adding 15 full-time bus drivers (15 percent) and adding a student information system position (four percent).
“In an ideal situation when a teacher is hired, we are looking for a 1:1 ratio for years of service to their position on that step scale,” Scott said. “Because of economic shortfalls in 2012-2017, we weren’t always in a financial situation to give steps on that scale. There were years where we went without. Most are four steps behind and that’s something we would like to correct.”
Scott said to achieve alignment would require giving five steps to teachers, but that would come at too high of a cost for the budget.
“We think that a reasonable target would be three steps,” he added. “Then adjusting the percentages based on what Richmond’s budget says. The price tag on that is just under $1 million.”
In case the state requires a higher step increase, Dr. Ben Boone, the division’s director of finance, configured other models.
“If we look at three steps and one percent, that’ll cost about $1.3 million,” Boone said. “If you look at three steps and two percent, that’ll cost about $1.6 million. Looking at the scales, if you did three steps and two percent on the average on the scales that we currently pay our teachers, that would equal five percent.”
Boone said the third option would meet the proposal by the governor and cost approximately $1.985 million.
“For our classified staff, we’ve looked at three steps, and that would cost about $185,000,” Boone said. “Four steps would cost about $240,000. To get the classified staff to around five percent increase, it would cost an additional $400,000.”
The increases alone equal a total $2 million increase to the budget, according to Boone who added that does not include transportation and administrative staff.
“The good news for everybody is there is a pretty fair expectation that if the budget from the state comes out and says there needs to be a higher percentage, that also means there is going to be more state funding that comes along with that,” Scott said, and added it “wouldn’t be on our local taxpayers to fund an increase like that.”
Scott said the federal and state funding could help with funding other new costs related to the pandemic and other education priorities.
“With each of these expenses, there are separate pots of money that help pay for those,” Scott said of “federal funds, state funds, local funds and special grants.”
Scott said the school division is set to receive approximately $8.037 million in federal funds.
“It’s very important to acknowledge the fact that these funds cannot be spent on things that aren’t related to combating COVID,” Scott said. “These aren’t funds that can easily be used to handle compensation increases.”
Based on the proposed budget from Gov. Ralph Northam, Scott said the division is set to receive approximately $1.4 million in state funds.
“That does increase the local required effort that would be funded by the Board of Supervisors,” he added. “At this point, that is just one guy’s opinion on the matter. We are still waiting on the General Assembly to come out with the approved state budget.”
As of now, Scott said the division is hoping for at least level funding from the county.