Free Lance-Star reporter Amy Umble covers Stafford County schools and other education issues

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Stafford school employees may receive raises

Stafford County Schools employees won’t know until later this month whether they’ll receive raises.

The School Board today discussed the 2011–12 budget, but put off a vote until its meeting May 24.

The Board of Supervisors recently approved a county spending plan that urges the school division to provide 2.5 percent raises using money budgeted for a fund for employee and retiree health benefits.

Supervisors also want the schools to use those dollars to prevent 56 job cuts that the division has proposed in its budget.

Twenty of the jobs would be teachers and 25 would be elementary school paraprofessionals, Superintendent Randy Bridges said.

At a  work session today, Chief Financial Officer Wayne Carruthers said the supervisors’ recommendation would have consequences. For instance, he wrote that supervisors haven’t included a “recurring revenue stream” to cover the salary increases and jobs in future years. Click here for Carruthers’ full report.

School Board Chairwoman Patricia Healy said there’s a “definite possibility” supervisors will fund the raises in 2012–13.  “We’ve certainly been given direction from the Board of Supervisors that the raise could be covered” if finances continue to improve, she said.

The Board of Supervisors’ budget resolution recommends $4.3 million for raises.

Step increases—at an average of 2.5 percent—would cost $3.6 million. The remaining $700,000 would go to the 183 employees at the top of their pay scales. Bridges suggested stipends for those employees, who are not eligible for step increases.

The supervisors’ plan also calls for schools to put $5.5 million in an investment trust that will fund retiree health care costs known as other post-employment benefits, or OPEB. School administrators had set aside $10 million to invest in OPEB, but Supervisor Cord Sterling has said the smaller amount still puts the division on par with Prince William County.

Some counties have contributed nothing to the fund.

The Virginia Association of Counties and the Virginia Municipal League created the trust fund where local governments and school boards can put in money to cover future OPEB costs. The money is managed by a board of trustees that includes Carruthers.

Stafford Education Association President Jannette Martin said tonight she would “strongly support” the supervisors’ recommendation if it funds OPEB, in addition to raises and jobs that would have been cut.

“It’s our understanding that this will not impact retiree benefits,” Martin said of the plan.