IW schools planning pay freeze

Published 2:24 pm Wednesday, May 13, 2020

By Stephen Faleski

Staff writer


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Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton has proposed freezing all Isle of Wight County Schools employee salaries for the coming school year — including his own — to make up for lower-than-expected state and local funding.

As such, teachers who would ordinarily have received raises at the start of the new school year per the division’s 32-step teacher pay scale will begin the new year at the same level of pay they are currently receiving.

Prior to the arrival of COVID-19 in Virginia, IWCS had projected its state funding would increase by just over $2 million based on an anticipated division-wide student population of 5,605, a figure the state refers to as average daily membership. While the state’s population estimate for IWCS hasn’t changed, the General Assembly made numerous cuts to its 2020-2022 biennial budget during a reconvened session on April 22. Based on those cuts, which an April 29 Virginia Department of Education memorandum refers to as “unallotments,” state calculations now show IWCS receiving an increase of just $1.78 million.

An “unallotment,” the memo explains, suspends funding and does not allow it to be spent until the General Assembly adopts a general fund revenue forecast supporting the spending.

“When the governor says ‘unallotted,’ I want to be very clear … ‘unallotted’ means it could come back if we get out of this and the economy comes roaring back,” Thornton said. “That is fantasy. You are not going to see that unallotted money come back to any county.”

Thornton also clarified that even the reduced average daily membership funding is contingent on 94 additional students showing up in September. The division’s current student population is estimated at 5,511.

The division would also ordinarily receive up to $6.6 million in a normal economy as its share of state sales taxes. According to Rachel Trollinger, the division’s executive director of budget and finance, this money is paid in installments on a two-month delay, meaning the payment the division receives in September is based upon sales taxes collected in July. Lynn Briggs, IWCS spokeswoman, said the division’s latest projections show a 25-percent reduction in this money, or roughly $1.65 million less.

IWCS is also now anticipating receiving level funding from Isle of Wight County, rather than the $694,001 increase it had requested in February.

“We haven’t received that number [from the county] yet but are hoping to have something before the May 14 School Board meeting,” Briggs said. “If so, then the board would be able to take action on possible cuts to the budget at that time.”

In addition to freezing salaries, Thornton also recommended not hiring 13 positions for an additional savings of $569,789. The majority of these are instructional positions, including the four additional teachers needed to implement the alternating week career and technical education schedule the School Board approved in January. The division informed parents last week that its alternating week schedule will now begin at the start of the 2021-2022 school year, with the division’s six CTE programs continuing as double-blocked courses this fall, rather than alternating weeks of exclusively academic or CTE classes.

Thornton further recommended that IWCS reduce its contribution to employee health savings accounts from $1,200 a year to $600. That $600 payment, which the division normally pays in October, will be frozen until the division knows more about the fall economy. If funds are available, the division plans to make this payment in February 2021.

“We are planning for worst-case scenario,” Thornton said. “This is probably the scariest budget I’ve ever been involved in as a superintendent.”

Thornton isn’t even certain if schools will be able to open in the fall. The latest COVID-19 model from the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute, he said, now shows that if Virginia’s social distancing restrictions are partially lifted when Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order expires on June 10, COVID-19 infections could peak in mid-August.

“We have to plan for possibly opening in the fall … we have to plan for maybe not opening in the fall,” Thornton said. “In either of those cases, the peak is about the same. We are going to have a peak no matter what. We would have had a far worse peak if we did nothing.”