Caroline County school officials plan to ask county officials for extra funds to cover teacher salary adjustments and a 12 percent pay increase for bus drivers, mechanics, clerical workers, teaching assistants and food service workers—some of whom make close to minimum wage.
Caroline County “teachers get two to three years of experience and then go 18 miles up the road and get a $5,000 to $6,000 raise,” said George Spaulding, chairman of the Caroline County School Board.
The proposed budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year also calls for an extra $505,000 to cover the increased cost of health insurance for the school division. “We don’t want the employees to have to pay extra for their health insurance,” said Dr. Greg Killough, Caroline school superintendent.
The Caroline County School Board and staff presented the proposed budget at a public hearing on Feb. 3 at Caroline Middle School, but no one from the public made any comments. The proposed budget is likely to undergo further fine-tuning, but the overall school budget for the new fiscal year, which starts July 1, stands at $40.3 million. That is a $3.5 million increase over last year’s budget, Killough said.
Most of the $40 million will come from the state and federal governments.
Roughly $14.6 million would come from county taxpayers, and that represents a $2.6 million increase over last year’s budget, he noted.
The board is expected to adopt a budget on Feb. 10 to take to the Caroline County Board of Supervisors for approval. Major categories of the budget are: $1.5 million for salary increases, $648,437 for new positions and benefits, $538,454 for retirement rate increases, $505,200 for health insurance increase, $147,870 for material and supplies, $152,100 for equipment and fixtures and $50,000 for professional development.
School board members want to adjust the teacher pay scale so that it’s more logical and better balanced. They want the pay grades among teachers to be in increments of $900. In one case, there is only $180 difference between two pay grades. In another case, the difference is over $3,000.
By making this change in the teacher pay scale, the starting salary for a new teacher in Caroline would be $38,600, compared to the current starting salary of $38,166. After 32 years of teaching experience, a teacher would receive a salary of $66,500, rather than the current $65,892.
Teachers with five years of experience would get $42,200, while teachers with 10 years would get $46,700. Salaries for teachers with 20 years would be $55,700 and those with 30 would be $64,700.
Currently, “our pay scale is all over the place,” said Shawn Kelley, a School Board member. “This would be a nice little increase for everyone. We also need additional teachers and coaches. This is not a wish list as much as stuff we need for the school system.”
“I really appreciate the board’s support of the step increase,” Killough said.
“This is a good start,” said George Spaulding, chairman of the board.
“I hope we can get this from the Board of Supervisors,” said Nancy Carson, vice chairperson of the board. “I just know the reality of this.”
Carson mentioned that the Board of Supervisors is facing increased funding challenges, such as the new $6 million emergency radio system for the county and repayment of the $26.3 million bond referendum for expansion and upgrades to Caroline Middle School and Madison Elementary School. She said she had heard that the Board of Supervisors might be faced with new financial obligations that equal 11 cents on the tax rate.
“I’m concerned that the Board of Supervisors might get out the red pen,” Carson added.
“We’re down 59 staff compared to five years ago,” Killough said. “We’re still down $500,000 less than our budget from five years ago.”
Killough said a school survey indicated a majority of respondents support the schools and favor salary increases for teachers.
“Does that surprise you when the school bond referendum got 80 percent of the vote” in November 2013, Kelley asked. Parents tell him they are concerned about “the tremendous staff turn over” in Caroline schools and that “we should be trying harder” to retain teachers.
County residents “need to come out to the Board of Supervisor meetings and participate,” Spaulding said.
“We need quality programs to get our students ready for college and careers,” Killough said.
“They can’t say we’re not running a tight ship,” said Mack Wright, a School Board member. Student enrollment grows each year and is over 4,200 now. “We have $500,000 less and 59 staff less.”
During the 2008-2009 school year, Caroline had 576 full time staff members and 144 part-time staff members. During the 2013-2014 school year, it’s 524 full-time staff and 137 part-time staff.
“A major concern of mine is the poor shape of the facilities,” Wright added. “We must reiterate the fact that we know what we’re doing and these are real needs. The writing is on the wall. People know this. They need to call the supervisors, send emails to them, write letters to the editor and come to the meetings.
“Why do we want to train someone to go somewhere else?” Wright asked. “We would probably have better test scores if we had consistency in the teaching staff.”
“If we were a business, we’d have been bankrupt a long time ago,” Spaulding said.
Support staff need a 12 percent pay increase because “they are barely making minimum wage now,” Killough said in an interview. “Twelve percent would go a long way toward helping these individuals.” Compared to 12 school districts in Central Virginia for support staff pay, Caroline is “among the lowest” in pay, he noted.
The non-teacher salary increase calls for a 12 percent increase for hourly and 11-month employees and that would cost $759,328. The 12-month salary scale would increase by 4 percent and cost $110,871.
Pay increases for teachers and support staff would cost nearly $1.4 million in additional funds in the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
Over the past five years, Caroline schools have lost 59 positions. This year, school officials hope to add three secondary teachers, four elementary school teachers, one SPED teacher, six instructional assistants. and three new coaching positions (soccer, assistant baseball coach and assistant softball coach). “We have an excellent baseball program,” Killough said. The high school assistant baseball coach is needed for additional safety measures and also as a backup in case the regular coach is out.
During the 2008-2009 school year, the average daily membership (ADM) was 4,105. As of Nov. 30, 2013, the ADM was 4,239.
The Virginia Department of Education ranks Virginia’s 136 school divisions, based on the amount of local funds the schools receive. Caroline is near the bottom at 117. When it comes to local spending per student, Caroline is 129th, which means the average school division spends over $2,000 per student more than Caroline.
The cost per pupil in Caroline was $8,612 during the 2011-2012 school year, compared to the state average of $10,969, according to www.doe.virginia.gov. That’s a difference of $2,357. During the 2010-2011 school year the difference between Caroline per pupil cost and the state average was $2,182.
“We have to fund the school division,” Killough said. “The supervisors have to make the tough decisions, and I truly respect that. We’ve got to spend more to provide the much needed resources. We’re putting in some money for professional development and to improve teacher pay scales and for textbooks and technology.”
Teachers pay part of their retirement, but the county must pay $538,454 into the state retirement plan for teachers and non-professional school employees.
“We are very much in consensus that we want to provide the community with a quality education program,” Killough said. “To do that, we need to make some requests in increasing our budget.”