IW Schools cuts $500K from proposed budget

Published 1:57 pm Monday, March 11, 2019

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Isle of Wight County Schools is now proposing an operating budget of $66.3 million for the 2019-2020 school year, with approximately $28.2 million coming from county taxpayer dollars. The new proposed local contribution still amounts to a roughly $1.9 million increase over what the county’s Board of Supervisors had allocated to the school division at the beginning of the current school year, but is now about $500,000 less than the $2.4 million increase the division had proposed in February.

At the Thursday morning budget work session, Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton informed the School Board about the state funding for IWCS specified in the now-approved General Assembly budget. While the money is still an increase over the division’s state funding for the current school year, it is now $165,958 less than the $1.6 million increase that had originally been proposed.

However, the state-mandated ratio of guidance counselors to students — while likewise still an increase over the current year’s requirement — was also reduced from Gov. Ralph Northam’s original proposal. This means that IWCS will only need to hire three additional guidance counselors instead of seven.

Two of these will be for Windsor-area schools. One will be shared between Windsor Elementary and Georgie D. Tyler Middle School, and the other will be shared between Windsor High School and Smithfield High School.

Gone from the revised budget proposal are six building support positions, which would have been instructional assistants, and five “process facilitators.” These would have been special education positions at Carrsville Elementary, Westside Elementary, GDTMS, Windsor and Smithfield high schools, tasked with sitting in on individual education program (IEP) and accommodation (504) meetings instead of that school’s assistant principal, and ensuring that each of their respective schools are compliant with said documents.

Thornton said the instructional assistants would not have been high dollar positions, and as such, could potentially still be hired closer to the start of the next school year with money saved from attrition. Attrition occurs when the division saves money, such as when a teacher with more than 30 years experience retires and a new teacher is hired at a much lower starting salary. Such savings could also potentially fund one process facilitator.

Also gone from the revised budget: Funding for a part-time nurse assistant at Windsor Elementary; a new central office finance position; funding for two vans at $60,000 apiece, which would have allowed coaches to drive their teams to and from events without a commercial driver’s license; funding for teacher recruitment efforts at colleges; funding to upgrade the division’s computer equipment on an 8-year cycle; and a $10,000 request from Carrsville Elementary for arts integration field trips. However, division staff plans to reallocate unused field trip funds from other schools in the current year’s budget to try to meet Carrsville’s request.

Requests from school principals that remain budgeted for 2019-2020 include three STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teachers — one of which will be the environmental science teacher Windsor Elementary has requested — and funds to implement a “house system” at three schools, including GDTMS. The division has also budgeted for Epi-pen materials at each school, an additional secretary at Windsor High and a contract increase for SSC, the division’s custodial company.

Division staff explained that the manufacturer that had been providing Epi-pens to each school for free had recently experienced a shortage. Lynn Briggs, the division’s director of community and media relations, said that while the manufacturer still plans to provide the pens for free during the 2019-2020 school year, adding this item to the budget was a precautionary measure.

Also still included in the proposed 2019-2020 budget are raises for teachers. The General Assembly’s 2019 budget mandates that all school divisions statewide give a raise averaging 5 percent over the 2-year state budget cycle. Isle of Wight County Schools provided an average raise of 3 percent, funded by a combination of local and state tax dollars, when it adjusted its teacher pay scale last year. As such, it must fund the required local match for another 2 percent this coming school year to receive the state’s portion of those raises.

Briggs explained that the state funds about half the salary of each standards of quality (SOQ) position. SOQ positions are ones included in the minimum number of employees the state requires a school division to have. Isle of Wight County Schools contributes the remainder of these positions’ salaries, plus the salaries of employees beyond the minimum.

According to the proposed 2019-2020 teacher pay scale, 10-month teachers entering step 1 (one year experience) from step 0 would receive a 6.8-percent raise. Those entering step 2 from step 1 and those entering step 3 from 2 would receive a raise just over 7 percent. Those entering step 4 from 3 would receive a 5.56-percent raise and those entering step 6 from 5 would receive a 3.77-percent raise.

Those entering steps 7 through 20 would all receive a 2-percent raise, and those entering steps 21 through 30+ would receive a raise of 0.9 percent to 2.92 percent. Starting pay for a teacher at step 0 (no experience) is now $44,000, which is roughly 6.5 percent higher than the current entry level salary of $41,310.

School Board member Kirstin Cook said the new starting pay would make IWCS’ entry-level salary more about $2,000 higher than the regional average.

While the maximum salary for teachers without advanced degrees or certificates who have more than 30 years of experience remains at $70,537, Thornton is considering offering these employees a 2-percent raise every year after reaching step 30-plus. However, this is merely an idea at this point, and is not currently listed in the proposed 2019-2020 pay scale.

While the proposed raises, if approved, wouldn’t take effect until July 1, the School Board plans to vote on the matter in March so that the division will be able to give definite figures to new hires for the coming school year.