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King George School Board explains pay hike

King George School Board members came to a work session this week to defend their decision to give school employees a 2 percent pay raise when other county workers got half that much.

They passed around paperwork to the King George Board of Supervisors, showing that county teachers with varying levels of experience all made less than those in surrounding jurisdictions. Afterwards, some supervisors said they agreed with the School Board’s decision.

“I can understand, looking at the numbers, why you’d want to do that,” said Supervisor Dale Sisson Jr.

“The chart says it all,” added Supervisor Cedell Brooks Jr.

The meeting between the two boards was the first part of a two-hour work session Thursday. Supervisors also discussed plans for capital improvements, the tourism budget and what ordinances they want the Planning Commission to consider in regards to oil and gas drilling.

Sisson said “there was some rumbling” about contention between the two boards, but stressed that he didn’t feel that way.

He and Chairman Joe Grzeika said they had asked the School Board to come to the session—not just to explain the 2 percent raises as some residents claimed—but to better understand the school spending.

The state legislature didn’t pass its budget until late in the season, so it was the “11th hour and 59th minute,” Grzeika said, when localities finally found out how much they would be getting from the state.

King George schools received $300,000 less than expected. School Board members directed Superintendent Rob Benson to keep the 2 percent raise in place—and trim the $300,000 elsewhere.

Because supervisors didn’t know what cuts the School Board had made, they appropriated school funding for the first quarter only. They wanted the School Board to explain their decisions before the rest of the money was appropriated.

The move angered former School Board member Renee Parker and resident Warren Veazey. Both wondered, at Tuesday’s monthly Board of Supervisors meeting, why the supervisors questioned the School Board about its spending when they’ve made it clear they don’t get involved with how the school system spends its money.

“Asking the schools to explain why or how they gave a 2 percent pay raise is beyond me,” Parker said on Tuesday. “The fact that you have directed them to explain themselves is unconscionable.”

Sisson responded that it was part of his job as a supervisor to question the changes because schools make up 60 percent of the county’s budget.

At Thursday’s meeting, Benson explained the cuts. He said the School Board decided not to fill two positions, then went through spending line by line to make the necessary trims.

They kept the 2 percent raise for school employees, even though county officials told them their employees were getting only a 1 percent raise.

Grzeika reiterated how the difference in pay increases caused some concern.

“We look at King George County as a unified team,” Grzeika told the School Board. “When there’s a difference, it creates issues for everyone.”

That’s when School Board members passed out research they had done on salaries. Benson said officials contacted cohorts in Caroline, Colonial Beach, Fredericksburg, Stafford and Spotsylvania—and learned King George teachers made less at every level.

School Board Chairman Mike Rose said the low salaries are particularly detrimental when the county tries to recruit new teachers right out of college.

“They can go right next door” to Caroline or Colonial Beach for more money, he said.

The comparison didn’t include Westmoreland County, which is the only one in the Fredericksburg region with a lower teacher salary than King George’s.

The two boards didn’t discuss teacher turnover rates, but Parker, in her comments on Tuesday, said that “teachers flow through a revolving door at an alarming rate.”

Superintendent Benson told The Free Lance–Star he’d heard rumors that the school system experienced a turnover rate of 35 percent this year.

He said that’s not true. The county hired 48 new professional staff members, which includes teachers, therapists and counselors. That’s a turnover rate of 14 percent, Benson said.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

 

TEACHER SALARIES

The following are average teacher salaries budgeted by localities in 2014, according to the Virginia Department of Education.

CAROLINE $51,400

CULPEPER $49,312

FREDERICKSBURG $47,152

KING GEORGE $44,096

ORANGE $48,652

SPOTSYLVANIA $52,936

STAFFORD $50,858

WESTMORELAND $41,340

VIRGINIA $53,466

In 2014, Arlington County budgeted the highest average salary for teachers, $74,810. Buchanan County in Southwest Virginia had the lowest, $33,811.

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