Board moves ahead with raise

by Charlie Koenig - Posted on Jan 30, 2019 - 02:13 PM

Photo: A row of red balloons, representing teachers who were advocating for the schools at the Mathews Board of Supervisors’ meeting, filled the Mathews High School media center. Photo by Charlie Koenig

A row of red balloons, representing teachers who were advocating for the schools at the Mathews Board of Supervisors’ meeting, filled the Mathews High School media center. Photo by Charlie Koenig

While many of the Mathews teachers and other school supporters were not at Tuesday night’s hearing on the school board’s draft budget—opting instead to attend the Mathews Board of Supervisors’ public input meeting on the county budget—they were there in spirit, with 60 red balloons (each representing a Mathews Education Association member) tied to the chairs of the Mathews High School media center.

The balloon cartoon heads were intended to bob and nod in agreement; but they likely wouldn’t have been in accord with one of the evening’s speakers, who urged the school board to reconsider its proposed 13 percent raise, instead asking the board to limit any such increase to 2 or 3 percent.

Bobby Dobson of Cobbs Creek asked the school board to think about the effect that a significant real estate tax increase would have on the county’s retirees living on fixed incomes.

While Dobson’s comments found a sympathetic ear with at least one of the school board members, as Jeanice Sadler suggested that the board hold off asking for such a significant raise until money is freed up with the retirement of a bond issue next year, the only adjustment made to the draft budget was the addition of a special education teacher position at Thomas Hunter Middle School.

The school board is set to present its draft budget to county supervisors this coming Tuesday during a joint dinner and work session in the Thomas Hunter Middle School library, beginning at 5 p.m.

The $16 million budget includes a county contribution of $8.76 million, an increase of approximately $1.6 million over the current appropriation. The 13 percent raise (actually a 12 percent increase with a step on the school division’s salary scale) comprises much of this increase.

There were a few new positions added as well. In addition to the special education teacher, the budget includes another school counselor at THMS (pending action in the General Assembly), a librarian/media specialist at the middle school (a position the school has not had since 2009) and a Student Services position that would combine the duties of Gifted Coordinator, attendance, truancy and homelessness. Also, an elementary teacher position added mid-year because of class size needs is also in the 2019-2020 budget for the first time.

“I’d like to get that, too,” Dobson said of the proposed raise. He took issue with teachers who work only 180 school days. “You’re not working what I would really call a full-time job,” he said. More money is being thrown at education, “and kids are learning less,” he said.

A “13 [percent] raise at one time is a little out of the ordinary,” Dobson said. “Maybe 2 or 3 percent … I think that would be more acceptable.” He said that such an increase would be devastating for retirees who would see a significant hike in their real estate taxes. He said that his land has been in his family for over 200 years and he wouldn’t want to lose it because he couldn’t pay the taxes.

Lee-Jackson Elementary School principal Drew Greve, while not directly addressing Dobson, refuted some of his points, saying that teachers often work in their classrooms from 7 in the morning to 6 at night, putting together lesson plans on nights and weekends, and also working over the summer to get ready for their fall classes.

He spoke about the difficulty of recruiting new teachers and having to compete with neighboring divisions like Gloucester and Middlesex that recently had sizeable pay increases for teachers.

“That 12 percent [plus step] gets us closer to being competitive,” Greve said, calling it “a bare minimum.”

School superintendent Nancy Welch spoke about the exodus of teaching professionals, with seven leaving for higher-paying jobs during the past year alone. “That’s unheard of in this community,” said Welch. “It is happening now, and it’s going to get worse.”

In addition to Greve, others speaking out in favor of the pay raise during Tuesday’s public hearing were Rachel Morris of the MEA (who explained the significance of the balloons before leaving for the historic courthouse), Kathy Perdue of Port Haywood and THMS principal Laurel Byrd (who made a plea for the special education position).

A number of MEA members also took their case to Richmond on Monday, as part of a larger effort to lobby legislators for adequate compensation for teachers. The General Assembly is currently considering a 5 percent pay raise for teachers.