As the school budgeting season commences Clarke County Public School teachers are lobbying county officials for what teachers see as a long overdue salary increase. However, school officials are already grappling with state funding decreases due to lower-than-expected school enrollment as well as painfully old technology infrastructure. And with the Clarke County Board of Supervisors already in its most fiscally conservative posture in recent memory, chances for the pay raise appear dim.
At Monday night’s school board meeting Clarke County Education Association president Andrew Kiser presented a thoughtful plea for the School Board to include a funding increase in the upcoming budget deliberations. Kiser said that while the CCPS faculty is grateful that the school system had been provided with constant level funding last year, lack of funding increases mean that new textbook purchases postponed and technology upgrades are delayed.
“If we cut anymore our ability to deliver a world-class education will be compromised” Kiser told the school board. Kiser said that although times are tough teachers cannot continue to function on a 2008 budget level.
“We need a 2012 budget” Kiser said.
“Any further cuts will compromise our core program” school board chairperson Robina Bouffault told the audience earlier in the evening. However, Bouffault added that Clarke County was experiencing its fourth year in pupil population decline. Bouffault said that school staff is already looking for ways to make up a $250K state funding reduction resulting from this year’s 88 pupil decline.
Kiser said that the Clarke County Education Association would also like to see a salary enhancement next year because salaries have been kept constant over the last two years. Kiser questioned whether lower wage positions like classroom aides and cafeteria workers are even earning a living wage given the current pay rates.
Kiser said that many of the teachers that were hired at the same time he was eleven years ago have since been drawn away to other localities offering higher salaries like Loudoun and Frederick counties and feared that Clarke County will continue to loose resources if the salary situation is not addressed.
While a pay raise could stem the drain of Clarke County teachers to neighboring jurisdictions, so far there has not been any serious discussion indicating that the Board of Supervisors is willing to take on a permanent budget increase for any purpose.
One possible salary upgrade source is $360K in one-time educational job funding allocated received by Clarke County from the US Department of Education in August. Virginia is one of eight states picked to divide close to $250 million in federal funding intended to help save education jobs. The funds can be used to rehire or maintain employees but cannot be used in a school system’s operating budget according to the Department of Education. While the money could be used for salary purposes, the Clarke County Board of Supervisors has been vigilant in not funding ongoing budget commitments, like salary increases, from one-time funding sources.
In keeping with the Supervisors’s budget guidance, Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy told the Clarke County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that the school district intends to hold onto the money until it has a better idea of what the state legislatures education funding plans are.
“We may opt to use the money for offering early retirements” Murphy told the supervisors. “When you replace a $65K salary with a $35K salary person there is a savings.”
There was no discussion of the impact on education quality associated with the loss of senior teaching staff.
One alternative funding source for compensation assistance may be parent teacher organizations according to Carolyn Kruza. Kruza is president of the Clarke County Band Association and treasurer of the Johnson Williams Middle School Parent Teacher Organization. She believes parent groups are willing to help supplement funding for teachers.
“Teachers are our most important investment because they are responsible for shaping our students” Kruza told the school board. “Parent will do whatever we can to help supplement the budget but we look to you to for help with the budget.”
Unfortunately, teaching salaries are not the only educational deficit that the school board needs to fund. At Monday night’s meeting CCPS Technology director David Baggett painted a bleak picture of CCPS’s current technology infrastructure as well as the costs for correcting the issues.
Baggett told the school board that in working to update the division’s technology plan to meet state guidelines the resulting budget requirements could be enormous.
“Placing interactive white boards in 200 classrooms could cost $560K” Baggett said.
Baggett went on to tell the school board that there are 1000 – 1200 computers used across the division, some more than ten years old.
“We fight every day to keep some of those systems working” Baggett said. “Moving to a five year replacement rotation where we replace 200 machines a year will require $200K annually.”
“We are playing major catch-up with our infrastructure and technology” Dr. Murphy added.
Over the coming months school staff and the school board will work to develop a budget that addresses their budgetary priorities for the coming year. The school budget is scheduled to be completed for presentation to the Clarke County Board of Supervisors on February 7, 2011. The Supervisors are expected to finalize the budget in March, 2011.