Draft IWCS budget draws mostly favorable reactions

Published 5:22 pm Friday, March 6, 2020

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Isle of Wight County Schools’ proposed 2020-2021 school year budget received mostly favorable reactions from parents and community stakeholders during the division’s public hearing, which was held on Feb. 27, in the Smithfield High School auditorium.

The draft $68.2 million budget, which Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton first presented to the school board about three weeks ago, amounts to a roughly $2.9 million increase over the division’s adopted 2019-2020 budget, with most of this increase coming from an additional $2 million in state funding. The increase, intended to reflect an anticipated 184-student population increase, is contingent on Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed state budget passing the General Assembly.

As previously reported, Thornton’s proposed budget calls for $982,263 in raises and incentives for current personnel, the bulk of which — $566,634 — will go to teachers. This includes funding to move any teachers who experienced a pay freeze in past school years to the correct step on Isle of Wight County School’s pay scale, corresponding with their total years of teaching experience.

“My paycheck has not gone up in four years,” said Carrollton Elementary School third grade teacher Shea Wilde, who urged the school board to fully fund Thornton’s proposed 2020-2021 budget. Wilde then added that with her most recent step increase, the paycheck she received that Friday would be only $9 higher.

According to IWCS spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, all teachers are receiving annual raises in accordance with the division’s 32-step pay scale, but rising costs passed onto division employees, such as health insurance, may have canceled out those raises, or even reduced overall take-home pay. Thornton then clarified at a follow-up budget work session on March 5 that only one year over the past five has IWCS increased health insurance costs for its employees, and said Wilde may have switched her health insurance plan or contributed more to her health savings account when suggesting reasons for why she may only have seen a $9 increase in pay.

Tricia Williams, an employee of Windsor Elementary School, and Dana Stallings, whose children attend Windsor Elementary, likewise spoke in favor of the budget, and specifically asked that the three new positions proposed for the school — an environmental science teacher, a preschool program and a part-time school nurse — be funded. Tiffany Walker, who has three children enrolled in the county school system, further asked that the division hire additional teachers to reduce class sizes.

Shelly Perry, however, questioned the need for increasing the salary of teachers who had previously experienced a pay freeze.

“We need two new schools, but people are forgetting one thing: everybody’s paychecks are changing,” Perry said. “Insurance is going up. My husband’s paycheck has gone down considerably the last few years … but that’s the job he chose … I understand people need more money, but that’s not the most important thing.”

Herb DeGroft further urged the board to consider allocating funding in its budget to place school resource officers at each of the county’s nine public schools, rather than waiting for the county’s Board of Supervisors to vote on Sheriff James Clarke Jr.’s request for funding to do so. Clarke’s proposal offered three options for funding the SROs, one of which would place an Isle of Wight deputy at each of the county’s five elementary schools starting next school year at a cost of $391,555. The other two options would phase in the deputies over a two- or three-year period with the cost spread out over those fiscal years. Currently, the county has four SROs — one in each high school and one in each middle school.

“Even little old Franklin has stepped up,” DeGroft said, referencing the $100,000 in Franklin City Public Schools Superintendent Tamara Sterling’s proposed 2020-2021 budget for three SROs — one in each of that division’s three schools.

At the March 5 work session, School Board Chairwoman Jackie Carr, with consensus from the other attending board members, asked Thornton to cut roughly $67,000 he had budgeted to give principals, school nurses and central office administrators a 1-percent raise, and instead reallocate that money to hire one or two additional classroom instructional assistants. An annual 1-percent raise, Thornton said, had been part of the administrative pay scale formula the school division had implemented last school year. Division officials had initially planned for the new pay scale to only be for new hires, but in December 2018, the school board had voted to extend the new formula to all employees, which resulted in several central office administrators receiving $10,000-plus raises at the beginning of 2019.

The extra instructional assistants, Carr said, would help teachers when there are disruptions in class due to a division-wide and nationwide uptick in behavior issues, particularly among elementary school students.

“We have, and the nation has, serious gaps in special ed,” Carr said. “We are seeing more and more behavior problems in the general ed classroom … this week alone, I’ve had two parents talk to me with very disturbing stories, and I don’t see that reflected in our budget.”

The school board is scheduled to vote on the revised budget at its Thursday, March 12, meeting. If approved, the budget will then go before the Board of Supervisors for final approval and funding.