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County schools hope raises boost retention, recruitment

The Albemarle County school division is hoping a 10% raise for employees along with a compensation study and redesign of the human resources department will improve employee recruitment and retention, among other goals.

The raises, which include a 4% bump in March and a 6% one in July, come as the division is seeing more teacher vacancies, fewer applicants and struggling to fill key support staff positions such as bus drivers and school nurses. The 10.2% overall raise would be the largest hike in recent years, according to budget documents.

The raises will bring the division’s starting salary for a first-year teacher with a master’s degree from $50,746 to $55,265. The county would pay more than Charlottesville through the first 10 years of the teachers’ careers, according to the presentation, which factored in the city school division’s budgeted 5% raise. Other school systems in the area are also planning 5% raises.

Charlottesville’s pay scale for those with a master’s degree would start at $54,939, according to the presentation.

Albemarle County has historically lagged the city in teacher pay — a gap board members wanted to close during this budget cycle.

Among classified staff, the division saw a 76.4 retention rate last fiscal year, which is the lowest in five years. Pay was a top reason employees left, according to exit interviews. Currently, the division has 18 open jobs among this group — all of which have been posted for more than a month.

The School Board reviewed the compensation proposals during a work session Thursday on schools Superintendent Matthew Haas’ $242 million funding request. There was little discussion on the changes, and board members seemed supportive.

Full-time classified employees — a category that includes non-teacher and non-administrative positions — start at $15 an hour.

As a result of the raises, the division wants to have all teacher vacancies filled by the first day of school, improved retention over a three to five-year period and fewer employees citing compensation as a concern, said Brodie Downs, assistant director of human resources.

The compensation changes total $17.2 million and make the bulk of the new spending in the request. Boosted by 17.6% more in local revenue, the budget is increasing by 14.6% overall. The county has seen continued economic growth during the pandemic and property taxes make up 66% of its revenues.

Albemarle County Executive Jeff Richardson’s proposed budget includes an increase to hotel and meals tax rates but keeps the real estate tax rate steady.

The division is starting work on a $150,000 comprehensive compensation study, which will take a broader look at how the school system’s pay compares to other schools as well as area employers.

Downs said the study will be the first time in more than 20 years that the school division has reviewed its compensation policies, programs and market to maintain competitiveness.

The school division also will be reviewing compensation policies and its market autonomously rather than in conjunction with local government. Previously, the county has sought commonality between the pay scales for school and local government classified employees.

For example, Haas said the study will give the division an idea of who they are competing with to hire school nurses by looking at compensation benefits and how their positions are structured compared to nurses at hospitals, clinics and private facilities.

Currently all school classified employees, such as bus drivers, follow the same salary scale, though the study could pave the way for more specific scales tailored to the market for those positions.

The funding request includes $3 million to start implementing recommendations in the study, which is set to be completed by the summer.


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