School Board questions budget hike

Published 6:46 pm Tuesday, February 26, 2019

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer

Several Isle of Wight County School Board members voiced concern about the $2.4 million county spending increase in the school superintendent’s proposed budget. The total county contribution is proposed at $28.7 million, up more than 9 percent from the current budget. 

In response, Schools Superintendent Jim Thornton said he would bring cost alternatives and their ramifications to the School Board’s next budget work session on March 7. 

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Additional required staff and 5-percent teacher raises put forth in Gov. Ralph Northam’s Dec. 18 budget proposal have become a financing obstacle, according to Thornton, stating that budget announcements from the governor’s office have created expectations of a 5-percent raise throughout the schools.    {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“We met with TAC today, our Teachers Advisory Council, and we shared the pay scale, the one that we’re proposing,” said Thornton, “and the feedback we got was, they do expect a five percent raise from what they heard from the governor,” said Thornton. 

To complicate the matter, the Virginia General Assembly has not finalized its own budget proposal, namely, the portion pertaining to teacher raises, according to Thornton. Ultimately, the General Assembly’s budget must be reconciled with Northam’s, so the percentage of the raise has not yet been finalized at the state level.

“It’s almost like we’re going to be the bad guys,” said Thornton, “because in the budget, we’re giving about 2.5 percent but it’s 5 percent over two years,” he said, adding that there was a 2.5-percent pay raise last year as well.  

State funding increased by $1.6 million for FY2020 based on Northam’s budget proposal, but Thornton said that the increase comes with required uses for the funds that don’t give much leeway.  

Of the $66.9 million county schools proposed budget, $651,000 is designated to teacher raises, with a separate $499,547 going toward seven new guidance counselors. 

School Board Chairwoman Vicky Hulick said that Isle of Wight County must “match” the state funds for these raises. For example, the county would contribute 2.5 percent to match the state’s 2.5 percent to create a 5-percent total raise. 

“It’s not like they’re giving us the whole five percent,” she said, and Thornton agreed.

School Board member Kirstin Cook, while in support of increasing the starting salary for teachers on the pay scale, also vouched for a lower total budget. “I know we’re at $2.4 (million). I would love to see us look at that and see if we can get that down at all,” she said. 

Hulick also supported a lower budget. “$2.4 million is a lot of money,” said Hulick on the increase request for local funding since last year. “Look, I saw the list of stuff that we’re not even doing that would be crucial to do, but when the money’s not there and we have a capital improvement plan coming … we need to consider that moving forward,” she said, adding that more students coming into county schools is a budget factor as well.  

Hulick also questioned the need for seven new process facilitators — new positions designated to assisting principals and assistant principals in meeting the needs of special education students, according to Isle of Wight County Schools Spokesperson Lynn Briggs.

“The assistant principal role has turned in to nothing but paperwork,” said Thornton, “and that’s bad in a couple ways, because they’re going to be your next principals, and they’re not getting the leadership experiences,” said Thornton. “So, we figured it was a very needed role for a change but again, piloting some could be a possibility,” he said.

On lowering costs, Thornton said “I’ll get with my staff and give you a couple of proposals and discuss the different ramifications of those.”  {/mprestriction}