The Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors on Monday pledged to dole out more money for the school system’s next fiscal year, but not enough to meet the needs of a spending plan built on teacher salary decompression.
County officials promised an additional $18.2 million to schools, from property and sales tax revenues. But the money comes with a catch: not only are they not looking to fully fund salary decompression in this next fiscal year, they also want a balanced schools budget on their desks in the next few days.
The proposal of schools Superintendent Merv Daugherty includes $25.2 million to address teacher pay and provide other staff, including administrators, with a 2% raise. The Board of Supervisors is proposing to nix the 2% raise, spending $17.4 million on teachers only.
Classroom teachers are the board’s number one priority, said Matt Harris, deputy county administrator, on Monday.
The additional staff, including school administrators, will probably be considered in next year’s budget cycle, Harris said.
Board Chairman James Holland said Monday: “We recognize that a great school system is essential to the quality of life. And we are demonstrating our commitment to education and our teachers by ensuring that that plan is a priority for this Board of Supervisors.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, the school system was ready to tackle teacher pay by proposing the largest pay increase in nearly a decade. But then the county, faced with deep cuts in the overall budget, eliminated a planned 2% salary increase for school employees.
The School Board is slated to vote on Daugherty’s proposal, which has a $39.6 million spending gap, on Thursday, before sending it to the county.
“We thought last year’s $100M[illion] Superintendent’s wish list was a lesson learned,” the Supervisors wrote. “When seeing another unrealistic request presented in January, we had assurances from many of you that you, as a School Board, would take ownership and quickly make the appropriate adjustments.”
School officials previously said $24 million of the gap could be funded through dollars the district gave back to the county last year.
In a joint statement, Daugherty and School Board Chairman Ryan Harter said they appreciate the county addressing the school system’s salary compression issues, as they have lingered for far too long.
“We look forward to continued dialogue throughout the coming school year about how to address other important issues that remain unfunded,” the statement said.
In a December letter to Daugherty, County Administrator Joe Casey wrote, “I understand from our conversations and what I’ve heard from others, is that you feel it is your obligation to present a ‘needs based’ plan for consideration. However, we all face a reality where our needs outweigh the taxpayers’ resources. Therefore, I am requesting your proposed budget balance to local funding target.”
Daugherty has a legal right to request a needs-based budget as stated in 22.1-92 of the Virginia Code.
“It says the duty of superintendent is submitted needs-based budget to the school board, and then the school board then decides on the final budget that goes to the Board of Supervisors,” Daugherty said last month.
Casey said Monday that he hoped the extra money would help the school system see the county is here to work with them.
In an open letter Monday morning, the Chesterfield County Public Schools’ Budget Advisory Committee implored the supervisors to fund the district’s budget gap.
“Chesterfield is in the top 6% of high-income counties in the United States, yet operates its school system on a duct-tape budget. While we can take solace knowing that our teachers won’t be left behind in this budget, the long-term funding of education in our county is not yet resolved,” said Christopher Williams, a member of the school system’s budget advisory committee, in a statement on Monday.
Poor teacher pay is why the county is losing teachers at an increasing rate and having unfilled positions, the committee wrote in its letter.
“It is deplorable to say that one supports education while not supporting a living wage to the educators who provide it,” the committee wrote.
Locally, Henrico County has a countywide proposal on the table that provides a minimum average 4.4% pay raise for county and school employees, which could rise to as much as an 18% increase depending on the individual employee. Hanover County is proposing a 2.5% salary increase for all employees.
Chesterfield is scheduled to unveil its overall operating budget on March 10 and the capital budget on Wednesday afternoon.