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Seeking higher staff increases and more time to consider the proposed budget for the 2022-2023 fiscal year for Warren County Public Schools (WCPS), members of the Warren County School Board voted on Wednesday, March 2 to file an action on the proposal.
During the regular board meeting, the majority of the school board voted to have WCPS staff do more work on the proposed budget before voting to approve it. The Warren County Board of Supervisors must also approve the school division’s proposed budget of about $70.93 million for next year.
Council Vice Chairman Ralph Rinaldi, for example, has pointed out that he would like to see more money than what is in the currently proposed budget go to teachers to address some of the school division’s teacher retention issues. Currently, the proposed budget would give WCPS teachers a 5% salary increase, including an increase in their years of experience.
“I would rather see more money go to teachers in order to solve many problems, one of them being the exit of teachers,” Rinaldi told WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger, who presented the proposed budget for the council action. “I’d like to see if there’s anything we could do to stretch that increase a bit so we can retain our teachers.”
Rinaldi called WCPS a “training academy,” referring to the fact that WCPS teachers tend to be attracted to the higher salaries offered to them by surrounding school divisions.
“And you know, folks,” Rinaldi said, turning to the audience, “it’s not just the teachers. It is the firefighters, the sheriffs and all the other employees of the county who are affected by this. Guess I’m tired of being the training academy for Loudon County and Prince William County and the like.
In fact, during the community involvement portion of the school board meeting, the Warren County Education Association’s secondary education president, Amy Flora, who is a math teacher at Warren County High School, suggested to members of the advice some figures to take into account.
For example, according to a news article, Flora said Virginia has increased teaching vacancies by nearly 62% since 2018. Additionally, Business.org reports that Virginia ranks last among 50 states. when comparing average teacher salaries across the state.
And when comparing WCPS salaries with Loudon County Public Schools (LCPS), the salary difference was $17,942 per year for the 2021-2022 school year for teachers with the same experience. , with the LCPS paying more. Prince William County paid the same experienced teachers $8,347 a year more than those working for WCPS, Flora said.
The 5% salary increase that is being proposed, Flora said, is actually a state mandate that does not come from the WCPS budget. Each county in Virginia is incentivized by public funds to provide a 5% raise. “But WCPS combines that money with what teachers would have gotten for incremental increases due to years of experience,” she said.
Flora also pointed out that 5% is not equal for all salaries. In Loudon County, for example, this increase means $3,508, while in Prince William it means $3,028. “But in Warren County it’s only $2,611,” she said.
“I came to you last month with great concern about the loss of teachers. This pay gap only widens the gap between Warren County and surrounding areas,” Flora said. “We still have vacant positions.
“What is the county willing to do when we don’t have enough teachers to run the system? When we rely on surrogates – however great they may be – to get children through SOLs, what affects accreditation and, therefore, affects state funding? she asked the school board members. “What is Warren County doing to encourage teachers to stay? »
Ballenger’s explanation of the proposed 5% salary increase, including step, reinforced Flora’s comments. And he acknowledged that the state incentive for the 5% pay rise “will not touch” what Commonwealth school divisions actually need to give everyone within their division 5%.
The superintendent explained that if a teacher is in stage one and there is a 1% difference between that and stage two, under the proposed budget, a WCPS teacher would get a 1% raise with Additional 4% added to make it a total of 5%. increase which is inclusive of step.
Rinaldi asked what it would cost WCPS to offer a 5% raise, plus a step, to teachers.
WCPS Chief Financial Officer Robert Ballentine responded that giving teachers one step plus a 5% raise would cost WCPS an additional $444,111. To do this for all WCPS employees would cost an additional $678,000.
Rinaldi said it’s not just teachers who deserve the raise, “but also bus drivers and anyone else who comes into contact with a child in the system.” And I wouldn’t mind seeing that. It sets the stage and the perception that we’re trying to keep these teachers here,” he said.
A suggestion on how to find additional funds to support a 5% increase, plus a step, came from board member Melanie Salins, who asked about the need for a new director position. full-time WCPS communications, which is included in the project budget.
“Improved communication is definitely something I wanted to see, but I had no idea it would be a full-time position and $100,000 a year prize,” said Salins said. “When there’s a 7% inflation rate and we’re giving teachers a raise below the inflation rate, and then hiring someone to communicate for $100,000 a year seems like a real slap in the face for our teachers .”
Ballenger said the proposed amount of the director of communications’ salary is based on the administrative salary scale of a professional with 10 years of experience. However, if someone was hired with fewer years of experience, the salary would be lower. Likewise, if someone with more than 10 years of experience was hired, then WCPS would be “in the hole” for the pay difference.
And Ballenger said a full-time position is warranted because the job would require more than just issuing infrequent press releases and would involve performing duties associated with continuously posting information through various WCPS outlets, such as its website, for example.
“I cringe at that one,” Salins said.
Rinaldi thanked Ballenger and Ballentine for the details they provided on the budget, acknowledging how complicated the process is this year.
Salins offered to table the vote until the school board can meet with the board of supervisors about it, and also give board members more time to review the items.
“I would really like you to work hard to find places where you can cut things out of this budget” that don’t include teacher salaries, she said.
The motion received a second from Rinaldi and council members voted 4-1 to pass the motion with school board president Kristen Pence, Rinaldi, Salins and Antoinette Funk voting yes and council member Andrea Lo voting no.
The Royal Examiner asked Superintendent Ballenger whether – given the many important budget priorities for WCPS next year – there were any areas where cuts could be made to find more money for teacher raises.
“In order to give all staff additional pay, with the current numbers we have, the only place to gain funds is to reduce the additional positions offered, reduce the cost of land or not transfer funds into the textbook funds for future expenses to name a few,” Ballenger wrote in an email today. “We may also see additional state revenue and that could have an impact as well.”
Ballenger also said he plans to prepare a revised budget proposal for the school board’s consideration at its March 16 business session.
WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith presented school board members with two food service contracts up for renewal for the upcoming school year.
The first was the renewal of the food service management contract with Sodexo America LLC, which has managed foodservice operations for WCPS since 2019. The agreement contains a clause that allows the contract to be renewed each year for four additional periods of one year upon mutual consent of both parties.
Smith highlighted elements of the contract that Sodexo plans to continue in the next deal, such as a guaranteed return of $72,750; an annual scholarship of $6,000; a $6,500 donation to the WCPS Backpack food program; and a $2,500 grant to introduce new programs in Warren County.
“Sodexo will also continue to employ catering workers and train employees on proper food handling, customer service and safety,” Smith explained, noting that there are 48 employees in the kitchens and four in total. in the administration, all working on site.
The agreement’s cost increase for the 2022-23 school year is 5% for general support services and 5% for management fees, although the management fee will only be paid if the program generates a guaranteed minimum financial return of $72,750, Smith said.
“The actual cost of the increase is less than one percent of one cent per meal served and if we maintain current service levels, that would be approximately $11,000,” Smith said. “Our current reimbursement per meal and school nutrition fund would have no problem absorbing this small increase and, as previously stated, the increase only applies to the meals served and not to the overall budget, so the reimbursement easily manages this cost.”
The school board voted unanimously to approve the renewal of the contract.
Sodexo’s second contract to be renewed is to manage WCPS custody operations for an additional one-year period beginning July 1, 2022 and ending June 30, 2023.
The initial contractual agreement for the 2021-2022 school year included a 12-month contract for an amount not to exceed $2,082,501. The proposal for the 2022-23 school year includes a 2.5% increase totaling $52,063 for a total contract price not to exceed $2,134,564, according to Smith.
The Board of Directors also voted unanimously to approve this contract renewal.
Following this action, the school board held a closed meeting to discuss a disciplinary matter involving a student.