Counteroffer would fund raises for 90% of school employees

Published 7:00 pm Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Supervisor Dick Grice has made a counteroffer to Isle of Wight County Schools that he contends would provide 2% raises to all but a tenth of the school division’s employees.

Virginia’s General Assembly in a special September session passed legislation allocating $54.5 million in state funds to give public school employees a 2% raise on top of the 5% raises that took effect in July in accordance with the state’s 2022-24 biennium budget, for a total 7% increase this school year.  

IWCS Superintendent Theo Cramer certified to the state on Oct. 27, and the School Board affirmed in a Nov. 8 vote, that Isle of Wight would accept its $312,221 share of the state funding. IWCS Chief Financial Officer Larisa Harris says a $485,616 local match is needed, as the state’s share won’t cover the full cost of extending the raise to the division’s 800-plus employees, but several supervisors balked at the unexpected cost.

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Grice and Board of Supervisors Chairman William McCarty met with School Board Chairman John Collick, School Board Vice Chairman Jason Maresh and a panel of county and school staff on Dec. 7 in hopes of reaching a compromise. Grice, at that meeting, offered to match the $312,221 from the state.

The state’s share is based on a funding formula known as the “composite index,” which calculates a division’s ability to pay the costs associated with meeting state-mandated minimum staffing levels based on enrollment, known as standards of quality or “SOQ” positions.

According to IWCS Human Resources Director Laura Sullivan, the division’s exact number of employees as of Nov. 7 totaled 808. Of these, just under 570 receive state funding as SOQ positions, though at a lower dollar amount than what Isle of Wight actually pays. Another 157 are in SOQ-equivalent instructional or support positions in excess of the minimum number required by the state, and as such don’t receive state funding. The remaining 82, among them the school division’s preschool teachers, don’t have an SOQ equivalent and also aren’t funded through the composite index formula.

“Preschool is not required by the state and therefore preschool teachers are not considered SOQ positions,” said division spokeswoman Lynn Briggs. “Preschool teachers are partially funded through state grants, while Kindergarten teachers are required by SOQ mandates and would be included in the funded positions.”

Grice, at the Nov. 7 meeting, contended his proposed $312,221 match would fund a 2% raise for the remaining six months of the 2023-24 school year for all but the 82 employees without an SOQ equivalent.

According to County Administrator Randy Keaton, funding the full $485,616 requested by the division would exceed the roughly $400,000 Isle of Wight had collectively budgeted for every county department for the entire fiscal year. McCarty noted whatever amount of local funding the supervisors contribute for the 2% raises would need to be doubled come July 1 to continue the new rates of pay into the 2024-25 fiscal year.

Funding the full $485,616 requested, McCarty said, would require increasing the $30.1 million Isle of Wight County budgeted for its school division at the start of the current school year by nearly another million dollars next year.

“We’ve just raised the floor of what our citizens have to pay,” McCarty said, contending the cost of continuing the raised pay rates into 2024-25 would be equivalent to “roughly 2 cents” on Isle of Wight’s real estate tax rate.

The supervisors, in a unanimous June 1 vote, had reduced the rate for the first time in 16 years to its current 71 cents per $100 in assessed valuation in an effort to partially offset the average 34% rise in the valuation of single-family homes during the 2023 assessment. In the nine years prior to the change, the rate had been 85 cents per $100.

Grice’s counteroffer wasn’t listed on the agenda as of Dec. 12 for the School Board’s Dec. 14 meeting. Asked if the board was agreeable to Grice’s proposal or planned to revote Dec. 14 on its request for matching funds, Briggs said, “At the November 8, 2023 regular meeting, the School Board voted unanimously to support a 2% compensation adjustment for all permanent division employees which requires $485,616 in local funding.”