Teacher raises and new hires hang in the balance as the School Board looks to reconcile a $21 million gap in county funding, while also tinged with uncertainty about the state’s budget.
During a meeting and public hearing last night, the School Board weighed staff recommendations for reductions to the budget to close a $21,515,432 gap. The board will vote on changes during its May 24 meeting.
The biggest question remains teacher raises, which were slated to be an average of 5% through cost of living adjustments and step increases. The staff recommendation to eliminate a 2.5% cost of living adjustment leaves teachers with only a step increase. Step increases would be an average of 2.5%, and teachers at the top of their scales would receive a one-time 1% bonus.
Superintendent Scott Ziegler said that it was likely that once the state finalizes its budget, the COLA will be again added to the budget.
“Most scenarios are the state would provide enough,” he said, “we’re just waiting for the final numbers there.”
The funding of performing arts stipends was paramount in the discussion among board members and the staff. A years-long push for equitable stipends for staff appeared to have succeeded in February when the board added a $2.4 million placeholder for the positions, pending a review of the roles.
After an investigation into extracurricular staffing, it was determined that fully funding stipends would be $3.9 million, a $1.5 million swing.
Chief Financial Officer Sharon Willoughby presented the recommendation to phase in stipends over three years, including just $1,277,824 for performance arts stipends in fiscal year 2023.
Denise Corbo (At Large), who made the original motion to fund all performing arts stipends, took issue with the reduction. Willoughby said that it would be difficult to determine what roles would constitute a stipend to satisfy the budget’s designation, and that the staff still needs to identify all stipend positions in the division, beyond performing arts.
“It would be like changing the salary structure for teachers and only implementing it for math teachers,” she said.
Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) interpreted the recommendation as an effort to achieve funding equality among activities.
“We’re trying to fix the tides for all boats. We can’t fix the tide for some boats and not the others. They’re both going to change, so it’s a dynamic situation where you can’t solve half of the equation,” he said.
Harris Mahedavi (Ashburn) expressed his frustration with the gap between the school district’s request and funding from the Board of Supervisors. The school division had requested $1.08 billion in funding from the county, a $75 million increase over the current fiscal year. The supervisors funded a $53.7 million increase.
“We could have done the 5% if we were funded properly from the Board of Supervisors, and here we are in this challenging situation here,” he said.
Administrators also are recommending the elimination of 25 new elementary teacher positions, which Willoughby reported would not significantly impact student to teacher ratios, and would slash $2,378,263 from the budget. Part-time first grade teacher assistant positions are also recommended to be removed, saving $1.5 million.
The presentation identified removed $1,000 stipends for special education teachers and assistants as potential savings, totaling $707,261.
A number of cuts to the English Learner department would save over $2 million, including 16 EL teachers.
Although the possibility of the funding shortfall was identified in February, board members and Ziegler pointed to the General Assembly as holding up the process.
“The commonwealth has put us and every school division in a very difficult place as far as adopting budgets. I appreciate all of their work and all of the work they’ve done projecting,” Ziegler said.
Willoughby recommended the board cut all departments’ operating budgets by 0.75%. Department heads would determine how those reductions would be made.
Board members were asked to submit motions for changes to the budget by Friday, so that administrators can calculate potential impacts ahead of next Tuesday’s meeting.