The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Caroline schools eye teacher, staff raises
The Caroline County School Board will ask the Board of Supervisors to fund pay raises for teachers and support staff—even if that means a tax increase.
About $1.5 million of the proposed $40.3 million school budget for next year would be used for experience-step salary increases for teachers and give 12 percent raises to support staff.
The School Board wants to adjust salary steps to make the teachers’ and support staff’s pay more competitive with surrounding counties to retain good employees.
“They get two to three years experience, and why stay here when they can go 18 miles up the road for a $5,000 or $6,000 raise?” asked Chairman George Spaulding.
Two changes would be made in teacher pay scale.
The board is proposing that teacher salaries start higher. This year first-year teachers make $38,166, and next year they would make $38,600.
The second change would mean that each step would increase pay by $900.
Overall, the school system would ask the county for $14.6 million. It’s $3.5 million, or 10 percent more than the current budget.
School Finance Director Lifen Zhou presented the superintendent’s proposed budget to the School Board Monday night.
It also calls for a 12 percent pay raise for support staff, who are paid hourly, and a 4 percent increase for 12-month employees, who are administrators.
Another $648,000 will be used to fund 17 new positions. Of those, 14 positions are full time and three are part-time. They include: three additional secondary teachers; four elementary school teachers; one special education teacher; six instructional aides and three part-time coaches.
“We definitely need the additional teachers, staff and coaches and they are all equally important in all of this,” said Madison District School Board member Shawn Kelley. “This isn’t really a wish list, but it is stuff we need.”
Superintendent Greg Killough pointed out that the school system is down 59 staff members from five years ago and the division is growing.
Since the 2008–2009 school year, the school system has gained 134 students, according to the division.
“You can’t say we are not running a tight ship,” Reedy Church District’s Mack Wright, Jr. said. “We are running the ship with nothing.”
He also expressed concerns over there not being money set aside in the budget for facilities.
“If you never change the oil in the car, it’s going to quit running,” he said. “I think it’s time that we reiterate these facts that we know what we are doing. The Board of Supervisors needs to see that and try to support us financially.”
SUPPORT FOR SCHOOLS
School Board members pointed to the overwhelming support from voters for the $25 million bond issue approved in November that would pay for renovations to Caroline High and Madison Elementary.
Eighty-one percent of voters approved the bonds.
That could result in a 7- or 8-cent increase on the real estate tax rate, which would be about $84 per year for the average homeowner.
In addition, the real estate tax rate may go up 3 cents to pay for a the county’s improved emergency communications system.
For every penny the tax rate goes up, about $250,000 is collected, according to the county’s financial consultants.
“Nobody likes paying extra taxes, but people said, if it is for the schools, they don’t mind,” Kelley said.
Wright agreed, “Taxpayers—if they know the dollars are going toward the school, they will support it.”
Killough said the school system conducted a survey and results show parents would like to see teacher pay raises and funding for the school division increased.
But the School Board doesn’t have any say over the tax rate—that’s up to the county’s Board of Supervisors.
“We have had some good public support, but it is a hard job to do something when you are not being supported 100 percent by the rest of the county,” Wright said.
He has no qualms about asking for more money from the supervisors.
“I feel like it is my job on the School Board to project what we think we need to provided a quality education for Caroline County,” he said. “Let them bear the burden.”
However, Vice Chairwoman Nancy Carson of the Mattaponi District isn’t sure supervisors will go along with the proposal.
“I fully support our budget, my concern is the Board [of Supervisors], and have we considered where we get out the red pen?” she said.
LOCAL EFFORT LOW
Caroline ranks low when it comes to cost per pupil. In the 2011–2012 school year, Caroline ranked 126th out of 132 school divisions for cost-per-pupil. The state average was $10,969 and Caroline’s cost per pupil was $8,812, for a difference of $2,357.
The total operating budget is mostly funded by state and federal contributions.
The school system will receive a net increase of $720,000 from the state next year, but about $48,000 less from the federal government, according to Zhou’s presentation.
The School Board will take up the budget again on Feb. 10. School Board members Mary Anderson and Tinka Harris were not present at Monday’s meeting.
Robyn Sidersky 540/374-5413