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Roanoke Valley teachers’ raises put localities on hook
The funds appropriated by the state cover only half of what districts would need to increase salaries by 2 percent. Many systems can't cover the difference.
Saturday, March 9, 2013
It’s a raise that could squeeze school system budgets — or not happen at all.
The state’s budget includes money for part of a 2 percent raise for some educators, but local school leaders said it’s just a portion of what it would actually cost.
While budgets in the Roanoke Valley aren’t final, school staff are wrestling with whether they can afford to take the state money, find matching funds in their own coffers and give raises. Right now it’s unclear who will be able to afford what, but there is a common sense of frustration.
“I think John Q. Public thinks the additional money was given to school districts to fund a 2 percent salary increase. A 2 percent salary increase has to take into account a variety of things the least of which is VRS,” Roanoke Superintendent Rita Bishop said referring to the Virginia Retirement System. “To get whatever money is out there from the state is going to cost every district money.”
The Roanoke School Board hasn’t approved a budget yet, but the increase does appear now in the draft as a possible expenditure change. It’s unknown what will happen, but the increase is on the table for discussion, and Bishop said she and her staff will do everything they can to pay for the raise.
But giving the raises would come at cost.
Curt Baker, the system’s deputy superintendent, said giving a 2 percent raise to system employees would cost $1.7 million. Baker could not pinpoint a specific figure, but said the state’s portion of funding would be much less.
“The increase is very challenging,” he said. “What happens is the school system has to find the rest of that funding and that puts pressure elsewhere in the budget.”
At issue is the fact that school systems still are grappling with tight budgets in the aftermath of the national economic downturn, and the state funds just part of the cost of giving raises.
The money in the state budget funds the state’s share of Standards of Quality, or SOQ, funded positions, but school systems still must pony up their share. Most if not all Virginia school systems, including all those in the Roanoke Valley, staff well above the minimums required by SOQs. So unless officials want to give raises to just some employees, there’s that cost, too.
“The state raise is only a portion of a portion of positions,” Salem Superintendent Alan Seibert said. ”We all exceed the minimum staffing requirements.”
Jeff Caldwell, a spokesman for Gov. Bob McDonnell, said in an email that historically the state has only funded its share of the SOQ positions.
But for school systems that have seen funding shrink, giving raises to staffers likely means making cuts elsewhere or finding new revenue somewhere.
Mandy Hall, Salem city schools supervisor of business, said it would cost about $530,000 to give all staffers 2 percent raises. The state’s portion of that is estimated to be about $230,000. Hall said right now the budget does not have the raises, although the board is scheduled to discuss the budget Tuesday.
“The only way we would be able to fund a 2 percent raise is if we had an increase in our local revenue,” she said, adding it’s unclear what route board members will want to take.
She likened the situation to buying something on sale. The state is kicking in money for raises, making them more affordable than if localities had to go it alone.
“It would be hard to turn it down, but if we can’t match it, we can’t do it,” she said.
In Roanoke County, Superintendent Lorraine Lange proposed her budget to board members Thursday and it did not recommend raises. It would cost $1.8 million to give raises to all of the system’s staffers and the state’s share is estimated to be $880,000.
“It’s only about 49 percent of what it would cost,” Penny Hodge, the school system’s assistant superintendent of finance, told board members. “Every school system is going to be battling that. What else do we cut?”
Roanoke County officials are especially frustrated because they gave staffers raises last year and unsuccessfully lobbied lawmakers in Richmond to take that into account. Lange even wrote a letter to the governor but said she never heard back.
Board member Fuzzy Minnix lamented the cuts to education spending in the past several years and said the state was playing “little shell games” with the 2 percent raise.
“You have got to prioritize things that are important, and education is important and that’s what we need to see,” he said.
Hodge said prior to the Thursday meeting that last year the board did the right thing by giving raises after teachers had gone years without one, but now it looks as if the system is now being penalized and potentially losing money.
“Our argument to our legislators was we did that. We came to the table,” Hodge said. “We funded it 100 percent with local dollars and there’s nothing left now.”
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