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The only way out of the problem, said the president of the state's teachers union, is more money.
Saturday, June 29, 2013
The salary freeze for Virginia teachers that began with the 2007-09 recession might be thawing, with most divisions in the state poised to increase pay when the fiscal year begins Monday.
Still, years of fixed wages have created stagnant pay scales for educators and challenges to school systems.
While divisions have limped through recessions before, the past several years mark the first time in recent memory that educators have faced years without a raise or a step increase, an incremental pay increase based on time employed.
“When we’re in these kind of tough financial times, the biggest problem as we come out of them that school systems are going to face is twofold,” said Meg Gruber, Virginia Education Association president. “They are going to have to figure out somehow to use their resources to uncompress the scale. That’s going to take good substantial chunk of money.”
Gruber, who noted the current downturn is the worst she’s seen in more than three decades in public education, said the second issue facing systems is teacher morale.
“While salaries have been frozen, teachers’ costs haven’t been frozen,” she said, adding that school systems should also be concerned that once the economy rebounds, teachers could leave the profession altogether.
In the meantime, some local school systems already report trouble hanging on to teachers, or hiring them, as educators move to divisions with pay scales that put them at higher salaries .
Looking at systems in the Roanoke and New River valleys, all but two gave raises for the coming fiscal year. Prior to that, most systems gave no significant increase in salary in the last four years. Compressed pay scales, especially at the lower end, are an issue.
“Scales reflect the pay of four years ago, not today,” said Penny Hodge, Roanoke County Public Schools assistant superintendent of finance. “You are compressing the scale. They are not going up. New teachers are coming in making similar salaries as someone who has been here four or five years.”
In the county, for example, the salary for a new teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $36,000. A second-year teacher has the same salary, and a teacher with two years of experience makes $38,824, as does one with five years of experience.
Roanoke County, which did offer raises in the current fiscal year, is one of 12 systems in the state not offering a pay increase in the upcoming year.
Most school systems giving raises are utilizing state funds to do so. The Virginia budget included the state’s share of a 2 percent raise for Standards of Quality positions, minimums required by the state. All area school systems fund above those requirements.
School systems found themselves wrestling with whether they could afford the money on the local end to fund their share, plus raises for positions not required by the state minimum standards.
Hodge said Roanoke County funded the increase last year with all local funds and lobbied Richmond unsuccessfully to consider that fact.
Roanoke County and Salem City Schools are the only local systems that will forgo the state funds and not offer raises. Salem, which has the highest starting salary in the Roanoke Valley for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree, also faces the salary scale compression problem.
Teachers with no experience or one year of experience make $41,000. Teachers with two, three or four years of experience make $43,244.
“We know that our pay scales are becoming more out of whack, discombobulated with each year of no raise,” Salem Superintendent Alan Seibert said.
He too cited compressed scales and no raises as having an effect on teacher morale. Seibert said the school system has used furloughs for administrators and has left positions vacant to balance the budget.
“That doesn’t change the work to be done. What you have statewide is people literally being asked to do more with less,” he said.
In Bedford County, spokesman Ryan Edwards also said unchanged salaries have taken a toll on staffers.
“What we saw is a fairly significant portion of our teachers go out and have to get second jobs to compensate for what they are experiencing,” he said.
As in surrounding localities, Bedford County teachers see stagnant beginning salaries. A starting teacher there makes the same salary, $37,627, through year four. In year five, they make just $346 more.
“We fear every year losing our best educators to other divisions, and we’ve seen that and our board has seen that,” Edwards said. “Our teachers are outstanding in the classroom, having to go someplace else because they can no longer afford to work here. That’s something we fear every year.”
Edwards said it’s also difficult to bring in beginning teachers when other divisions are offering more. He said the system relies on those born and raised in Bedford, who have a loyalty to the area.
Roanoke Deputy Superintendent Curt Baker said one of his system’s goals is to pay employees competitively. The system funded a step increase and at least a 2 percent raise for the coming fiscal year.
“We want to attract and retain the best,” he said.
For the most part, school officials in the Roanoke region said they do keep apprised of what surrounding localities are doing. Recently Roanoke has looked at its pay scales in comparison to some surrounding localities’ in an effort to address areas where its pay scale is flat.
Within the last year the Roanoke School Board has made adjustments to its pay scales for teachers and principals to address what officials call a “sag.” Baker said decisions made years ago shape the system’s schedule, and based on affordability the system hopes to continue addressing the sag.
“Decisions reached each year around salary schedules stay with you for a very long time,” he said.
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