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Albemarle teachers push for bigger raises; School Board set to adopt funding request

The Albemarle County school division’s proposed $209 million funding request gives teachers a raise of up to 3%, but some educators are pushing for more.

“Even 5% wouldn’t solve the problem, but it would allow us to know that you all are aware of the seriousness of the situation,” said Amy Gaertner, a Broadus Wood Elementary teacher and president of the Albemarle Education Association.

On average, county teachers made $58,422 in the 2018-19 school year, one of the highest rates in the area and second only to Charlottesville City Schools, according to the Virginia Department of Education’s Annual Salary Report, which also includes school counselors, librarians and instructional technology positions, as well as supplemental salary expenditures.

Charlottesville teachers made, on average, $62,504 in 2018-19; the statewide average was $59,278.

The Albemarle School Board will vote on its funding request during a work session at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the County Office Building-McIntire. The Albemarle Education Association is calling on teachers to attend the meeting to show their support for a higher raise.

“No teacher went into the profession to become wealthy, but they also didn’t plan on driving Uber or delivering Grubhub in their downtime,” Gaertner told the School Board during a public hearing on the budget last week.

County schools Superintendent Matt Haas’ funding request is 7% higher than the current operating budget. More than half of the $13 million in new expenses goes toward higher staff compensation. The request, as presented, is balanced and would not require additional funds from the Board of Supervisors.

Local revenues make up 70% of the school system’s budget.

Of the $7.5 million allocated for wage increases, $2.2 million would provide a 2.5% increase across the board. A $2.5 million line-item for additional compensation changes would provide an extra 0.5% for teachers, boost the starting hourly wage to $15 an hour and give classified staff a raise higher than 1.5%.

Haas told board members that he limited requests for new budget proposals in order to address student enrollment growth and wages.

“We also really wanted this to be a compensation year for our employees and make sure that we can impact as many employees as possible through the compensation increases,” Haas said.

Charlottesville also is eyeing a 3% raise for teachers, a proposal that would cost $1.3 million.

“We really have one competitor, and that is Charlottesville,” Haas said at a budget work session last week. “In our market, we have found we do not often lose candidates to the Northern Virginia school systems … However, we are behind the city. They just edge us out for starting pay, and then they edge us out all the way along.”

Albemarle overhauled its pay scale for teachers in 2018 to ensure consistent increases. Since 2016, county teachers have received average raises of 2% to 3%, according to budget documents.

This school year, a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree starts out at $47,103 in Albemarle and $48,143 in Charlottesville. With a master’s degree, a first-year teacher can make $49,430 in the county and $50,459 in the city. That difference compounds as teachers move through the pay scale with the divisions, especially during the first 20 years.

City schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins said at a budget work session last week that the county’s funding request influenced her proposal.

“We have a competitive edge, and we do want to maintain that,” she said.

Haas said the $2.5 million for additional compensation changes would give the division flexibility to adjust its plan for raises depending on what Charlottesville and other school systems do, as well as what happens at the state level.

Haas said the division can change some practices outside of the budget cycle to better compete with Charlottesville schools, including payouts for accumulated leave and adjusting how the sick-leave bank works.

“We’re trying to do a lot of things to look at our market and the practices that have been more beneficial for employees,” he said.

Gaertner, with AEA, said comparing salaries with other divisions leaves teachers “underpaid and undervalued.”

Additionally, Gaertner said the current salaries for teachers haven’t kept up with the growing challenges and workloads in the schools.

“The teacher of today is not like the teachers we had growing up,” she said. “The job demands a lot more complexity, flexibility and split-second decision making.”

Gaertner wants the division to conduct a position analysis for teachers as it has done for classified staff positions in recent years to gauge whether the pay is enough for the education required and the job responsibilities.

“It is clearly time to do the same thing for teachers since our jobs have changed so much,” she said. “It’s time for Albemarle County to lead the way in giving teachers the professional pay we deserve.”


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