Boards look at school budget proposal

by Charlie Koenig - Posted on Feb 06, 2019 - 02:33 PM

Photo: Supervisors’ chairman G.C. Morrow, center, and school board chair John Priest, at right, led Tuesday night’s joint meeting on the school budget. Photo by Charlie Koenig

Supervisors’ chairman G.C. Morrow, center, and school board chair John Priest, at right, led Tuesday night’s joint meeting on the school budget. Photo by Charlie Koenig

Members of the Mathews County Board of Supervisors and School Board broke bread Tuesday night, sitting down afterwards to hold a joint discussion about the school division’s proposed 2019-2020 budget.

Meeting in the Thomas Hunter Middle School library, the two boards reviewed the draft document, which calls for the county to contribute $8.76 million to the schools, an increase of roughly $1.6 million from the current allocation.

Supervisor Charles Ingram said that the county board has yet to hold its own work session on the overall budget and he would need to have one “before I commit myself.”

“We’re gonna do the best we can,” said supervisor Pepper Love, speaking about the school board’s request, which is driven by a 13 percent pay hike for teachers and other school employees. At the same time, Love expressed concern about the compensation for other county employees. “I’m just trying to be fair for everybody,” he said.

“It’s inevitable that the taxes will be raised this year,” Love conceded. “I don’t see any way out of it.”

“Suppose we came up with 10 percent [increase] and worked it across the board. Would you be comfortable with that?” he asked.

School board members and the representative from the Mathews Education Association made the case that a significant raise, especially for teachers, is critical at this juncture.

School board member Linda Hodges said that the teacher shortage and the drain of qualified classroom professionals from Mathews schools is “almost to a crisis,” she said. “That’s why this year is so very different.”

“This year with staffing has been shocking to me,” said superintendent of schools Nancy Welch, who has been with the division since 1995. With teachers leaving for neighboring school systems offering much higher pay, Mathews has struggled to fill positions, hiring teachers with provisional licenses to meet the need.

MEA president Rachel Morris shared some statistics with the two boards that shows a growing disparity in teacher pay comparing Mathews to Middlesex as teachers advance in years of experience.

For starting teachers, she said, Mathews is $1,928 lower in annual salary than Middlesex. At five years, that jumps to nearly $2,700; $3,500 at 10 years; $4,400 at 15 years, all the way to a difference of $7,767 for teachers with 30 years’ experience.

“Here’s why this year is different,” she said. “In the past, teachers hit 15, 20 [years] and higher and didn’t really relocate. Part of the reason was a sense of attachment to the community … But the other significant reason was job competitiveness and availability.

“When education was a popular profession, a 15-year teacher could apply to another school system but be up against countless first- and second-year applicants,” Morris continued. “Those applicants were high in availability and cheaper to the school system” because of being lower on the salary scale, lower insurance costs, etc., she said.

Now, with a nationwide teacher shortage, the more experienced professionals are in high demand and many are taking jobs elsewhere and commuting, she said.

“A school system with a low salary scale in the middle of a teacher shortage devalues the school system itself,” she said.

Love said that a campaign needs to be undertaken to explain the crucial need at this time. “We have to educate the public as well as the children,” he said.

School board member Melissa Mason said she appreciated the “intentional listening each one of you [the county supervisors] have given” to the budget request. “I’m glad we are able to come together and have this discussion,” Welch said.

The school board is expected to adopt its 2019-2020 budget at its regular monthly meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 19, in the Mathews High School media center. After adoption, the budget will be turned over to county supervisors, who will have the final say on the matter.