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

RSS feed of this blog

Stafford School Board mulls raises some more

Tuesday night, Stafford School Board members debated two plans for giving employees raises.

The School Board named employee pay as its no. 1 budget priority when members started discussing the budget in January. Superintendent Randy Bridges then presented the board with six options for giving those raises. At this point in the budget discussion, the board members are only discussing options five and six.

Tuesday night, board members discussed the pros and cons of those scenarios. Option five would give employees a step increase and an additional 6 percent raise. But 4 percent of that raise would go toward the employees’ increased deductions for the Virginia Retirement System. Under state rules enacted last year, the school system must make the employees responsible for paying five percent of their income into VRS within the next five years. The school system then has to give the employees a raise equal to the amount that they are putting into VRS.

Last year, the school division gave employees a 1 percent raise, and voted to make them responsible for an additional 1 percent of the VRS contribution. This year, they must at least give a 1 percent raise and require employees to pay an additional 2 percent of their salaries to the VRS. The School Board could vote to do that again this year. Or members could decide to go ahead and bump up the pay and the retirement costs by the full 4 percent required.

It’s a bit complicated and it makes giving employees raises complex. It’s not a simple matter of voting to give everyone 5 percent more money next year. And then there are the steps.

In theory, an employee goes up one step for each year of service. So, if a teacher has worked in the schools for five years, they would be on a step five. However, throughout the past few years of recession, that step increase–which is an average raise of 2.5 percent for employees–has not been a sure thing. And now, Stafford school employees are two steps behind. So that five year teacher is on step three.

Option six offers employees a 6.5 percent raise, which the School Board has been calling a cost-of-living adjustment but isn’t related to the cost-of-living index. That 6.5 percent raise would include increasing the employees’ contribution to VRS by 4 percent. So really, most employees would get a raise of about 2.5 percent. There are some costs to the employee when their income goes up, and that means that employees would lose more money than just the 4 percent increased contribution to VRS.

So the School Board members had to decide which option provides the best outcome. In option five, the steps increase. But the salary scales don’t. And when it comes to competitive pay, Stafford’s biggest problem is at the bottom of its pay scales. A starting teacher in Stafford makes less than a starting teacher in most nearby localities. But, if teachers get the regular step increases, an experienced teacher would get a better average salary in Stafford. If the board approves a step increase, that doesn’t increase the pay scales, so it wouldn’t boost the pay of a starting teacher.

However, if the School Board chooses option six, then the school division’s employees would be three steps behind instead of two.

“We need to get back on track with those steps,” said board member Patricia Healy.

Nanette Kidby pointed out that giving step increases does not boost the salary scales.

“If we want to be competitive out in the market, we need to change the scale,” Kidby said. “I’m not suggesting our employees don’t deserve a step increase but a step increase does not make us competitive.”

Dewayne McCosker worried about the overall costs of the options. Option five would cost the division $9.5 million. Option six would cost the division $6.2 million.

Board members also set lower class sizes as a priority. And they have to hire at least 15 special education teachers and several other positions to meet federal and state requirements. The school division also wants to fill a few more positions. The cost  is about $5 million. So it would cost the school division about $14 million for option five plus the added positions. McCosker worried about asking the county’s Board of Supervisors for that much money–on top of the money the supervisors already give the schools.

School Board Chairwoman Stephanie Johnson said, “I think there is a will on that board to be able to meet some of these needs, now how much are they going to be able to meet? That’s up to them.”

The Stafford Education Association supports option five as the best option for school employees.

The School Board is scheduled to vote on a budget next Tuesday. That budget will then be sent to the supervisors, who will decide how much to give the school division.