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Fredericksburg City Beat

This blog includes news about City Hall, city schools and other 22401 news.

Pamela Gould reports on City Hall. You can reach her at 540-735-1972 or pgould@freelancestar.com. Robyn Sidersky reports on city schools. You can reach her at 540-374-5413 or rsidersky@freelancestar.com.

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Schools chief: “My first concern is compensation for our staff.”

Fredericksburg Schools Superintendent David Melton told School Board members tonight that they must find a way to give schools employees some added compensation next year.

“We have to do something,” Melton said after telling board members that the division lost nearly 20 employees late last year, and that judging by the number of reference letters staff are being asked for, “We know that people are looking to leave.”

The last time schools employees got any salary increase was the 2007-08 school year, when they got a 3 percent cost-of-living bump. The year before that, they got an 8 percent raise that was intended to be the first of a multi-year compensation plan to make the city schools more competitive with neighboring jurisdictions. The recession quickly nixed that plan.

So next year, as we reported last week, Melton plans to ask for $536,000 to give schools employees a 2.5 percent raise. To pay for this, along with several other cost increases, Melton has said his proposed budget will ask for a nearly $1.4 million increase in city funding.

Melton said he’s been meeting regularly with City Manager Beverly Cameron and that he believes Cameron understands the need to do something for schools employees. Cameron has said the same thing about city employees.

We’ll see Melton’s formal budget proposal Feb. 7, and we’ll probably see Cameron’s proposal–which will tell us how he intends to pay for any salary increases and other rising costs–in early March.

Melton said tonight that his budget proposal will also include $320,000 for five new teachers. These are needed as the schools face a higher enrollment growth rate than they’ve seen for a long time.The current schools budget is based on an enrollment of 2,775 students. Next year’s working enrollment figure is 2,975 students. This is the second year the schools have dealt with enrollment growth of 200 students or more. Before that, they usually didn’t add more than 25 to 75 students a year.

Melton said he’ll be asking for two new teachers at Hugh Mercer Elementary School, two at Lafayette Upper Elementary School and one at Walker Grant Middle School.

As Kelly Hannon reported back in November, rental properties in the city are the big drivers behind recent enrollment growth. Most new students come from existing rental properties in the Fall Hill corridor, but a new rental complex, recently approved by the City Council and still under construction, has already gotten phones ringing in the schools central offices.

The Haven, a “luxury” apartment complex being built in Celebrate Virginia, isn’t open yet, but schools officials got their first call this week from one future resident with three school-aged children.

“This was one of the things we tried to tell City Council,” that new students are coming from rental properties, board Chairwoman Patricia Green said. “If we don’t want new students, we don’t keep building rental properties–or we increase the money we give to the schools.”

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