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Governor wants raises, contract reforms for teachers

BY CHELYEN DAVIS

RICHMOND—Gov. Bob McDonnell is proposing to offer teachers their first pay raise since 2007.

But he would tie the 2 percent raise to passage of teacher contract and evaluation reforms.

McDonnell announced his plans at a press conference in Richmond on Thursday.

His budget amendments—to be announced in full on Monday—will include $58.7 million for the teacher pay raise, the state’s share of the 2 percent.

Localities would also have to pay a portion of the raise; McDonnell’s staff didn’t have numbers for how much it could cost each local school division, but said it would be based on the localities’ composite index, a formula that measures localities’ ability to pay for schools.

The raise would take effect next July.

“Teachers are underpaid,” said McDonnell, whose sister is a teacher in Amherst County. “Everyone knows a teacher who has stayed after school, worked with students during their lunch break and on weekends.”

A pay raise, he said, would help show teachers their work is appreciated.

He wants to make the pay raise contingent on the General Assembly also passing his “Educator Fairness Act,” a package of proposals to reform the teacher evaluation process.

Last year lawmakers tussled over a bill—which eventually was defeated—that would have ended the long-standing practice of continuing contracts for teachers. The Virginia Education Association, which represents teachers, opposed the bill.

McDonnell isn’t reviving that idea. Instead, he wants to extend the probationary period for new teachers to five years, from three, and revamp the teacher evaluation process.

There would be new definitions of what it means to be an incompetent teacher—for instance, teachers would have received at least one unsatisfactory performance evaluation. And McDonnell proposes to “streamline” the teacher grievance process.

He called the longer probationary period “a much more rigorous approach to earning that contract” and said his evaluation and grievance proposals are “a better approach, a fairer approach” than eliminating continuing contracts.

McDonnell said he considers the pay raise and the evaluation changes a “package approach.”

“They need to go together,” he said. “Accountability and compensation are inextricably linked.”

VEA president Meg Gruber said her organization is “cautiously optimistic” about McDonnell’s proposals, but she hasn’t read the actual bills yet and wants to reserve final judgment until she does.

Last year’s teacher contract bill, she said, looked fairly innocuous until she read the details.

She called the proposed salary increase “a start.”

“We all understand the tough economic times,” Gruber said, but teachers have seen costs for health care and their state retirement go up, while their salaries haven’t kept pace.

While McDonnell and other state leaders are concerned about the impact on the state budget of potential cuts to the federal budget, McDonnell said the money for the teacher pay raise is “very” safe from action in Washington. He said education and transportation initiatives are his top priorities in the 2013 session, his last as governor.

McDonnell’s proposals also include increased incentives to recruit science, math and technology teachers, and a $15 million grant program to offer more compensation to teachers who take on additional duties, who transfer to hard-to-staff schools or who help students make “significant academic progress.”

He said he wants to raise the bar for education to “make our schools even better on the world stage” and make students more competitive in a global economy.

Students should graduate from high school prepared for either college or a career, otherwise “we fail,” McDonnell said.

Representatives from various education associations—the Virginia Association of School Boards, the Virginia PTA, the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals and the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals—were on hand to praise McDonnell’s proposals.

Deborah Frazier, principal of Harrison Road Elementary School in Spotsylvania and president of the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals, said she particularly supports proposals to provide more mentoring for new principals.

Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028

cdavis@freelancestar.com

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