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Stafford teachers could see sizable raises next year

BY AMY FLOWERS UMBLE

Stafford County teachers could see fatter paychecks next year. But School Board members first need to see how fat the price tag would be if they sign off on those raises.

In December, the board chose just two priorities for the upcoming budget: paying teachers a competitive salary and hiring more staff.

On Tuesday night, Superintendent Randy Bridges presented options for meeting those goals. But he glossed over the costs of those ideas.

“Let’s just try to discuss what you think would be the best option for our employees,” Bridges said to the School Board.

Next week, he will bring more details to the board as the school officials delve into the nitty gritty of the budget.

On Tuesday, Bridges offered six options for boosting pay, but said only two of them would really help the school division attract and keep quality teachers.

The two options each would increase salaries by at least 6.5 percent, although employees wouldn’t see that much more in their paychecks, because the cost of benefits also will rise.

The first option would give each employee a 2.5 percent step increase, on average, plus more money to offset benefits costs and a small cost-of-living adjustment.

The second option would simply increase all salary levels by 6.5 percent. That scenario would cover the increased benefits costs and include a cost-of-living adjustment.

Bridges gave the board a hint of the price of each option: The first would be about $9 million and the second about $6 million. The board doesn’t know where the money would come from, but members said they are committed to increasing salaries.

Under the options presented, a starting teacher’s yearly salary would go from $36,685 to about $39,000.

“It really puts us in a much more competitive place,” said Patty Sullivan, director of budgets and grants.

Board members aren’t putting too much stock in the governor’s plan to offer Virginia teachers a 2 percent raise. Gov. Bob McDonnell recently proposed the Teacher Excellence Act, which would boost teacher pay across the commonwealth. But final word on the governor’s plan could come after the board has to craft its budget. And a statewide raise would not affect Stafford’s ability to offer competitive raises, said Stephanie Johnson, board chairwoman.

Also on Tuesday, Bridges gave the board a list of about 120 positions the school system should add. That list includes 18 teachers, mostly in special education. Bridges did not offer an estimated cost for those new hires.

The board will hold another work session on the budget next Tuesday. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 29 in School Board chambers.

Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973

aumble@freelancestar.com

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