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City School Board mulls staff raise level

Charlottesville schools employees likely will receive a raise next fiscal year, but the School Board on Tuesday pondered how big the bump should be.

Schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins’ funding request includes an average 2% raise for all employees, but staff at a budget work session presented the board with different salary scenarios and costs for raises ranging from an average 2.5% to an average 3.5% increase. Employees did not receive a raise of any sort this fiscal year after new spending was largely frozen during the pandemic.

No decision was made Tuesday. Atkins and her team will go back to the drawing board and assess the different options. The School Board will meet next Thursday to vote on the funding request, which will then be presented to City Council on March 1.

At question Tuesday was the best way to give employees more money. A step increase would move employees up a rung or two in the pay scale and an across the board raise would affect the overall pay scale for future employees. The four options presented two step increases and a range of raises.

Board member Jennifer McKeever advocated for at least moving employees up two steps on the pay scale, the cheapest of the four options presented Tuesday, which still would be $244,660 more expensive than Atkins’ proposal.

“I want everybody to get a raise,” McKeever said. “I want the pay scales to change, but given $244,000, we could probably agree on where we can get that funding. I believe it will support the current employees in the division by giving them these steps, versus a raise, which will increase the pay scales forever for employees who have not worked during this time for our division.”

The most expensive option would cost an additional $1.07 million and involve moving employees up two steps and giving everyone an additional 1.5% raise.

Board chairwoman Lisa Larson-Torres said she wanted ensure that current staff at the top of the pay scale are taken care of. Under the option with only step increases, those employees wouldn’t see a pay bump.

“But if this was the way to make the best impact for our current staff, then I am supportive of that,” she said. “I think if that third round of stimulus money comes in, then we have that. But we’re doing this now and I think this makes a difference for the people on the ground now.”

Other board members were supportive of the step increases idea but were hesitant to spend more from the pot of the federal stimulus money that’s helping to plug budget gaps in the funding request. Atkins’ proposed spending plan relies heavily on the one-time stimulus funds to pay for a range of new expenses aimed at helping students and staff recover from the pandemic.

“I’m very torn about this,” board member Sherry Kraft said. “I certainly feel like our staff deserves more, especially in this last year and what they’ve had to do. … I’m concerned about using one-time funding to fund ongoing salary increases.”

The budget does not currently include money for an extended school year or summer school option beyond what the division typically does. Gov. Ralph Northam recently suggested that school divisions look to the summer months to help students make up lost ground.

Atkins said that if Northam recommends that schools extend the year, he would also need to define exactly what that means and provide funding.

“Absent of the governor providing that clarity and the funding, our intent is to run a summer school program,” Atkins said, adding that the division is planning to extend the length of that program.

Atkins’ proposed funding request hinges on receiving $58.7 million from City Council, which would be the same amount allocated for this fiscal year. The current spending plan also would save $2.054 million of federal money to use in next fiscal year’s budget.

Receiving $58.7 million from council is not guaranteed, however, and Atkins said the division needs to be cautious about how they spend the CARES funding.

“Currently, we are asking for level funding, and we’re hoping that we receive that level funding from the city,” she said. “The revenue forecast right now is not strong, so it concerns me, each time we diminish the amount we’re carrying forward. However, we have to respond to what our needs are. So we’re caught in a difficult position.”

If the School Board wants to give higher raises, Atkins said she wouldn’t necessarily use more of the CARES money but would look at the other proposed expenditures in the funding request.

More federal stimulus money also could still be coming to the school division as part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan. Atkins said the third round of funding could go toward raises.

Some board members suggested that Atkins build the budget assuming additional federal funding.

“But I don’t want us to take anything out because when you start to take things out, you lose something,” board member Leah Puryear said, adding that the board should send positive vibes for the passage of more CARES money. “… Even though we may take a slight hit now, if you — in your heart of hearts — really feel that CARES III money is coming, then we just slide it right on back in there as if there this very minute.”

Keeping the salaries competitive with surrounding school divisions is also a priority for Atkins and a goal of the School Board, which has worked to get Charlottesville’s pay near the top of the area.

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

In 2019-20, the average salary was $62,504, 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.

“The two steps, I think, is a brilliant idea,” Atkins said. “I like it. I like the reasoning around it. If we start moving in that direction, I’d also like to give us a little time to get back in and see how we maintain our competitive stance.”

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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