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Lawmakers consider pay raises for school support staff

General Assembly Republicans are considering broadening a proposed two-percent pay raise for teachers to include school support staff as well.

Gov. Bob McDonnell had proposed the pay raise and a $58 million budget amendment to pay for it. That would cover the state’s share of the pay raise; localities will still have to pay their local share toward the raise.

But lawmakers have found, they said, that some school districts have rules requiring them to give pay raises to all staff, including school support staff like custodians and bus drivers.

McDonnell’s original proposal, then, would have meant those school districts would get state cash for teacher raises but would have to provide the full funding for support staff raises.

House Majority Leader Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said House leaders are looking at ways to include support staff in the pay raise.

Depending on when the raise took effect — this September or next January — doing so would cost $9 million to $15 million, Cox said.

“We’re really serious about getting these localities to step up to the plate,” Cox said at a press conference. “We’ve come to the conclusion that needs to be part of the package.”

The pay raise is part of McDonnell’s public education package, the pieces of which are making their way through the legislative process.

On Wednesday the House advanced McDonnell’s bill to change the state’s rules for teacher evaluations and probationary periods; that bill will get a vote in the House on Thursday.

While McDonnell’s efforts to reform teacher contracts met stiff resistance last year, this year’s proposal is less drastic and has won the support of the Virginia Education Association.

VEA president Meg Gruber told reporters on Wednesday that the group still opposes some parts of McDonnell’s K-12 education plan, including a proposal to assign letter grades to schools to help let parents assess which schools are good and which are failing.

“Grading schools is a very simplistic approach to a very complex problem,” Gruber said.

She said involved parents don’t need the shorthand of a letter grade to know how their child’s school is doing.

Gruber said she is glad to see lawmakers look at pay raises for school support staff.

“They were leaving out some key employees … everyone does the job together as a team,” Gruber said.

But, she added, finding the money is still a problem at the local level, unless local governments commit to helping schools fund the pay raises.

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