VIRGINIA BEACH — Virginia Beach City Public Schools superintendent Aaron Spence presented the 2017-18 budget proposal at Tuesday’s School Board meeting.
The $742.1 million budget included a 2 percent pay raise for all full-time VBCPS employees, as well as funds for ongoing equity adjustments for the unified pay-scale, Spence said.
For the first time in five years, this would be a true raise for staff. In previous years, the salary increase was offset by the phasing of the Virginia Retirement System employee contribution and rising health care costs, according to Spence.
The superintendent also said health care costs will remain level with no increase in cost to employees.
Several community members and VBCPS staff addressed the School Board during the meeting to express concerns about the budget.
Barbara Powell, who has a served as a special education assistant at Hermitage Elementary School for 24 years, explained that a 2 percent raise just wasn’t enough.
“It was ten years ago this month that I first addressed the Virginia Beach School Board concerning low pay,” she said. “Over the past ten years I have asked for decent pay raises. One or 2 percent raises are not keeping up with the cost of living.”
Powell said that a 1 percent increase to her $24,000 salary would add less than $10 to each paycheck before taxes.
Low pay that fails to compete with rising costs has driven many teachers to avoid necessary medical attention, and take on second or third jobs to make ends meet, Virginia Beach Education Association president Kelly Walker said.
“I, personally, have worked two jobs throughout my teaching career,” she said, calling for a 3 percent salary increase in the coming school year. “More and more is asked from employees without just compensation.”
The financial problems that many VBCPS employees are currently experiencing are the result of fiscal austerity policies put in place during the Great Recession, Walker said.
Spence acknowledged the budget sacrifices that were made following the downturn of the economy a decade ago, including the elimination of positions and a bulking in class sizes, and confirmed that the administration has budgeted for the addition of 40 new staff members to offset large classes at the secondary level.
Many priorities were able to be addressed in the budget, but there were some shortfalls, Spence said.
The implementation of full-day kindergarten and expanded pre-school programs across the division has been a long-term goal for the administration, but could not be incorporated in the 2017-18 budget.
“To be clear, that does not signal a lack of support among the administration for this initiative,” Spence said. “I remain committed to working with city leadership to identify other funding sources to make this plan a reality.”
Also missing from the budget are funds necessary for replacing 50 school buses in the coming school year, Spence said, noting the administration was only able to allocate funds for about two dozen.
Hurdles to this year’s budget process resulted from an unexpected $6.6 million increase in Virginia Retirement System employer contributions, shortfalls in special education funding, and the retraction of state monies pledged for teacher raises, Spence said.
“The reason the budget process is so complex is quite simple,” he said. “We are dealing with more than numbers on a page or a check and balance system. We are dealing with people.”
Pohl may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org