Isle of Wight schools near top in salaries

Published 1:18 pm Wednesday, October 7, 2015

By Diana McFarland

News editor

Education spending per student in Isle of Wight County has dropped more than 19 percent since 2009, but the median teacher salary is among the highest in the state, according to a legislative review.

In 2009, Isle of Wight spent $11,852 per student across all areas and as adjusted for inflation. By 2014, that figure had dropped to $9,551, according to a recently released draft Joint Legislative Audit and Review titled “Efficiency and Effectiveness of K-12 Spending,”

Surry County students fared a bit better. In 2009, Surry spent $17,876 per student, and that dropped to $16,020 in 2014 — a 10.4 percent decline, according to the study.

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At the same time, Isle of Wight ranked in the top ten when it came to median teacher salaries, at $52,961, and was ranked ninth when salaries were adjusted for cost of living, experience and education, at $66,117, according to the report. 

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Statewide, the median teacher salary was $49,700.

Of the top 10 in salaries, eight were in the Washington, D.C. labor market. The only other school outside Northern Virginia on the list was Chesapeake, which ranked ninth when it came to median salaries and varied by only $27 a year above Isle of Wight County, according to the report.

While Virginia is close to the national average in total spending per student on K-12 education, it relies more on localities to provide that funding than other states — and is the highest amount in the Southeast region of the United States, according to the study.

On the flip side, Virginia students are above average in student achievement, according to the study.

All but four school divisions in Virginia cut spending after 2009, which represented the peak of the recession, with a median of 12.5 percent between 2009 and 2014, according to the study.

The average school division spent 9 percent less per student for instruction than it did in 2005, 8 percent less to operate and maintain its facilities, but about the same for transportation during that period, according to the study.

Recently, Isle of Wight Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton brought up a series of maintenance and equipment issues to the Isle of Wight County School Board, including items as mundane as desks, tables and paint and on up to HVAC systems and restructuring some of the schools to alleviate overcrowding.

Efforts to reach Thornton and School Board Chairman Denise Tynes were unsuccessful as of press time.

Ultimately, it’s the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors that decides the amount of local spending that will go to schools.

Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors Chairman Rex Alphin said part of the problem is a steady decrease in state funding, which puts more and more of the burden on the locality.

“There’s nowhere else for them to go,” Alphin said of the school division.

While Alphin hasn’t personally encountered a political climate sour on school spending, he does point to the composite index as one reason spending may have decreased.

As the composite index for a locality increases, the state in turn provides less funding, based on the premise that its residents are able to pay more in taxes to cover costs.

That number has steadily risen in Isle of Wight since 2011.

Isle of Wight County has raised its taxes 33 cents since 2011 — from 52 cents to 85 cents — with those increases tied, in good part, to the loss of tax revenue from International Paper and other industries during the recession, budget deficits and the cost of the Norfolk water deal.

At the same time, the local contribution to the overall school budget went from $21.4 million in fiscal 2011 to $25 million for fiscal 2016.

Those numbers do not directly reflect per student spending, and the 2011 figure represents the local contribution with the debt service amount removed, as it is computed in the budget this year.