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Charlottesville School Board adopts funding request with 5% staff raises

With state lawmakers and Gov. Ralph Northam eyeing a 5% raise for teachers, Charlottesville schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins proposed an equivalent pay bump for the coming fiscal year.

The 5% raise for all employees was approved Monday when the city School Board unanimously adopted Atkins’ funding request. If lawmakers approve the 5% in the state budget, that would mean more state funding for the school division, but officials are not sure how much that would be.

The $94.25 million funding request seeks $58.7 million from the City Council — the same amount for the current fiscal year — and relies heavily on federal stimulus money to support nearly $5 million in new spending.

Much of that new spending will go toward the raises, which cost $2.76 million, as well as a range of new staffing positions and supports to help students recover from the pandemic. The 5% raise will bring the starting salary for teachers to just over $50,000.

“It has been a goal of ours for quite a long time to move our teachers’ starting salary to at a minimum $50,000 and, long-term, we’d like to see that topped out at $60,000 to be more in alignment with the market,” Atkins said. “So we’re excited to make this recommendation to the board.”

At $48,143, Charlottesville currently has one of the highest starting salaries for teachers in the area.

Current employees would move up one step in the pay scale as part of the raise proposal. The School Board had previously discussed moving employees up two steps. Employees did not receive a raise of any sort this fiscal year after new spending was largely frozen during the pandemic.

Atkins initially suggested a 2% raise for all employees, which was in line with Northam’s budget proposal. The 5% raise would cost about $1.6 million more.

State lawmakers are currently working to resolve differences in the budgets approved by the Senate and House of Delegates. House lawmakers approved a 5% raise for teachers and a 3.5% raise for state employees and state-supported local employees. The Senate’s budget would give teachers and state employees a 3% raise.

On Friday, Northam encouraged the conference committee to adopt the higher pay raise, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“I love this, and I love the 5% increase,” city School Board member Sherry Kraft said. “Right now, that money is not assured. I mean, we’re hoping that this happens. So I’m wondering what is our contingency in case this does not pass?”

If the additional state funding doesn’t materialize, the division would use most of its CARES Act money for this budget and the 5% raise, Atkins said.

Officials have been looking to save about $2 million in CARES funding to use in future fiscal years, but the current funding request leaves about $394,124 left.

“If the General Assembly passes the 5%, then it will reduce our dependency on the CARES dollars,” Atkins told board members.

Aside from new raises, Atkins’ funding request was largely unchanged from what was presented to board members in January.

The raises and compensation changes, including a pay bump for school nurses and head custodians would cost a total of $2.99 million. Non-discretionary costs are increasing by $386,669.

About $1.8 million of the new spending would go toward the school-based program supports and improvements that include 17 new full-time positions, Wi-Fi hotspots, online tools and other learning materials.

In-person classes in Charlottesville are set to start March 8. Atkins said the division would operate within its current budget to scale up in-person learning.

Overall, board members were pleased with the 5% raise and funding request.

“The salary actions reflect a general commitment to our staff and, of course, the gratitude that we have for them, especially all the work that they’ve been doing over the past year,” board member Jennifer McKeever said.

School Board Chairwoman Lisa Larson-Torres and Atkins will present the request to the City Council on March 1.

City Manager Chip Boyles will present his budget Monday, as well.

Atkins said the division hasn’t received any direction or feedback on the spending plan.

“I’m sure that’s going to come soon,” she said.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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