By Brandon Martin
A Ridgeway resident called on the Henry County School Board Thursday to pursue salary increases for teachers.
“Teachers leave this area because there are wages in neighboring counties that are higher than ours. This is not acceptable,” Ron James, a parent, said at the Jan. 21 public hearing on the
division’s proposed fiscal ‘2022 budget. “We need to get our teachers more salary.”
Comparing the salaries of teachers to other professions in the fast food and retail industries, James noted the disparity.
“We’ve got teacher aides that are barely” getting by. “We’ve got teachers that are suffering. This is an important part of this entire budget ━ that step,” he said of proposed step or pay increases.
“Give our teachers what they need so that way we don’t have a substitute shortage, so we don’t have a teacher shortage,” James said, and added that “only four other states pay less than we do” and even in Virginia, teachers are paid less than in other localities, which underscores the need “to push for more wages for teachers.”
Francis Zehr, vice chairman and of the Ridgeway District, said James “did his homework. “Virginia ranks 46th out of 50 states. Our hands are tied somewhat and hopefully the General Assembly and the governor pick it up in some way.
“Virginia is one of the top 12 richest states. It’s not acceptable that we are in the top 12 or 13 and we are 46 out of 50,” Zehr said.
Before the public comment period, David Scott, assistant superintendent of Operations and Administrative Services, highlighted some portions of the proposed budget.
“We are looking at, for next year, a budget in state funds that is approaching $60 million and a local required effort of $13 million. That’s what we’d ask our Board of Supervisors to fund,” Scott said.
Compared to the previous fiscal year, there is an increase of approximately $1.4 million expected from the state.
“For all of our fears about the pandemic and what that has done to statewide revenues, to show any growth is a good sign,” Scott said. “I’ve heard some reports that this is still lower than what can be expected.”
During FY21, the division received approximately $19 million in local effort. Of that amount, approximately $13 million is required from the locality while the rest is referred to as “leeway” or discretionary funding.
“That would represent level funding,” Scott said. “As we go into the next year, that is usually our target. If we need to ask for more than that then we will be willing to do that. We know that the local required effort has gone up but what remains to be seen is how many discretionary funds are added to that. “
According to the presentation by Scott, the amount of required effort increased by almost $500,000 from the previous year.
Scott first detailed “budget mainstays,” which included baseline cost of compensation and benefits, baseline cost of capital improvements, baseline cost of the technology initiative, and the debt service.
Of the baselines, approximately 76 percent or $60 million is needed for compensation and benefits.
“We have to meet what our baseline compensation is for our employees right now,” Scott said. At 76 percent, “compensation and benefits is far and away the largest part of our budget.”
Comparatively, capital improvements accounts for 2.7 percent and debt services and technology both comprise four percent of the overall budget, he said.
He added that even with the three-step increase, the division would “still be lagging by two steps going into next year but it does put us in reach.”
A three-scale increase amounts to $976,000, according to Scott. Smaller increases would amount to $687,000 for two steps, and $366,000 for one step.
On the classified staff scale, Scott said “we are looking at two steps, hopefully three and possibly four.”
A two-step increases would be an additional $179,000 minimum, he said, and discussed pay raises for bus drivers, aides, and administrators.
“For bus drivers and aides, the talk on the budget committee has been to try to shoot for three percent or higher,” Scott said. “Administrators, they along with everybody except bus drivers, did not get an increase, so we think an appropriate raise there would be between one and two percent.”
According to his presentation, a three percent increase for bus drivers and aides would amount to $76,000 and a two percent raise for administrators would be $125,000.
Scott said school officials also cross-referenced the budget requests with the increase of $1.4 million from the state.
Step increases for full-time and licensed staff would be 26 percent of the $1.4 million for one step, 48.8 percent for two steps, and 69.4 percent for three steps. The step increases for classified staff would be 8.7 percent for one step and 12.7 percent for two steps. The percentage increase for transportation personnel would be 5.4 percent and increases for administrators would be 8.9 percent of the total $1.4 million.
When combined, the division could afford the pay increases with the expected growth in state funds alone. This; however, does not include other school needs, such as capital improvements, he added.
“If the governor’s budget holds true, that would implicate asking more than level funding,” Scott said. “It remains to be seen what the General Assembly will do with the budget. Indications are there might be some favorable increases there that would allow us to accomplish more of these things.”
Teddy Martin II, of the Reed Creek District, said there could be some cause for optimism on the budget.
“There are favorable indicators and certainly the VSBA is pushing, I’m pushing, and I’d expect that you’ll see more favorable indicators on the budget,” said Martin, who also serves as president of the Virginia School Boards Association. “The only question is how much.”