Pay increases for division employees are the major driver of a 19% increase in the Nelson County Public Schools budget, which school board members presented to the board of supervisors on March 29.
The schools’ budget stands at $32.8 million and requires a county contribution of $19 million, compared to the $15.8 million the county funded the schools towards its $27.5 million approved 2022 budget. The joint meeting allowed both boards to weigh in on the budget proposal.
Irvin outlined the board’s budget objectives and said school safety is a first priority. She addressed a March 25 incident where a student from Tabb High School in Yorktown visited Nelson County High School without registering as a visitor in the main office, instead entering the building with other students, according to the Nelson County Public Schools Facebook page.
“The stated purpose of the young man’s visit was to check out the school as his family may be moving to the area. The young man was detained and questioned by administration and by local authorities. After a thorough investigation, thankfully, there was no apparent danger to students or staff,” NCPS said.
People are also reading…
Irvin informed the board the schools have been fortunate to receive school security and safety grants to update camera systems and secure entries, “but we still have work to do.”
Irvin explained a number of factors have driven the budget increase. An increased assessment from the formula that determines state funding means NCPS will receive $331,909 less in state funding. The division’s health insurance renewal also calls for a 10.5% increase or $434,813 in premiums.
Irvin addressed what she called “dramatic learning loss” from two nontraditional school years.
“Some kids had moms and dads at home that could help them with their assignments and could even move them through at an advanced rate. Some were on autopilot and some didn’t have internet at all so they could only get paper and pen work when it was available to them,” Irvin said. She said the division has seen growth but estimated students are still six months behind where they should be.
A schools’ budget synopsis from January 13 shows the schools receiving $3.9 million in temporary federal COVID-19 funding. According to budget documents, these funds are restricted for the use of projects which address learning loss, remediation, ventilations or facility improvements to address indoor air quality.
Irvin said the schools’ budget is 80% salaries, wages and fringe benefits.
“We are a labor intensive organization. So it’s hard to do anything with our budget that doesn’t affect people or programs. We want a highly qualified workforce. We want competitive compensation,” she said.
Interim Superintendent Joseph Cox addressed a letter to the board of supervisors on March 14 on behalf of the school board summarizing the schools’ budget request. He said the budget is based on former governor Northam’s budget, which calls for a 5% salary increase for SOQ, or standards of quality, funded positions.
The schools’ proposed budget also establishes a $20 per hour minimum wage for support staff and adjusts seniority steps 20 through 30 on the teacher pay scale to become the 25th highest in the state, Cox wrote.
“We really need to do something to try to attract bus drivers. We really need to up that pay,” East District school board representative George Cheape said.
Irvin estimated the division is short five to six bus drivers, with mechanics and other staff members stepping in as needed, “which is not ideal.”
The budget also includes a 0.5% salary increase between seniority steps. In a February interview, Irvin explained the change will reward teachers every year they stay with the division. Previous seniority steps rewarded teachers with a larger lump sum less frequently, Irvin said, using a 2.5% increase every 5 years as an example.
School Board North District Representative Janet Turner-Giles said the adjustment will eliminate the problem of veteran teachers earning the same salaries as new teachers.
Turner-Giles also said division teachers have been stretched especially thin given a substitute teacher shortage — only ⅔ of vacancies currently are filled by substitute teachers; the other ⅓ are being filled by staff members who Turner-Giles said have had to double up on their teaching roles and forego planning sessions.
She said the situation was not sustainable: “so that is why you see the numbers that are in our budget.” Substitute teachers will be included in the support staff salary augmentation.
Irvin explained to the boards why maintaining competitive salaries is important to the division.
“There are not enough licensed teachers within the boundaries of Nelson County to be able to outfit our schools. So we have to hire folks from outside the region and bring them in so that we have coverage in our classrooms. And so when they have to drive in and incur that additional expense we think we have to pay a bit more to get them to come on board,” she said of the division’s salaried teachers.
Irvin added the board’s decision years ago to front-end its pay scale has allowed the division to keep a majority of its teaching positions filled and avoid for the most part the “empty classrooms” she said other divisions are struggling with.
“We have a few, but it could be much worse,” Irvin said.
According to Irvin’s presentation, the $50,832 annual starting salary for a teacher in Nelson County is the highest of seven nearby localities, including Charlottesville and Albemarle County, and ranks fifth in the state. But the current 20-year veteran teacher salary of $55,560 ranks 54th in the state, well behind $66,551 in Charlottesville and $62,428 in Albemarle. The current 30-year veteran teacher salary of $60,289 in Nelson County ranks 92nd in the state behind $76,541 in Charlottesville and $70,975 in Albemarle.
“10, 15, 20 years out when that pay scale catches up, that’s when we lose our most experienced teachers,” Cheape said.
School Board members thanked North District Supervisor Tommy Harvey for his continued support for the schools; Harvey has held the North District seat for 38 years.
“The school system always ranks very high on the county budget. We hope to give you what you need, not what you want,” Harvey said, adding “We’ve got a tough job in a rural area like this. We don’t have the wealthiest taxpayers.”
Get local news delivered to your inbox!