Lexington schools boost teacher pay for second year in a row

School board
Lexington City School Board members discuss a salary raise for teachers and staff at a recent meeting. (Basnight photo)

By Christian Basnight

Lexington City Schools officials are proposing the highest salary increase for teachers in recent memory.

Specifically, the proposed budget calls for a 7% pay raise for teachers, which would cost roughly $211,390. The school division implemented a 5% salary raise for teachers for the 2023 fiscal year to qualify for additional money from the state.

“Each year, it is our goal to try to increase salaries wherever we can, primarily because we need to keep up with the cost of living and inflation increases in our communities,” said Rebecca Walters, Lexington City Schools superintendent.

The $8,864,214 proposal for the 2024 budget addresses recruitment and retention of staff to keep Lexington City Schools competitive with other area school divisions.

“Teachers are not paid the best of many professions, especially for folks that are going and getting an education,” Walters said. “We’re always trying to show our gratitude, appreciation, and value of our employees by offering some kind of a salary increase.”

The proposed budget reflects an 8% overall decrease of $778,445 from the current fiscal year 2023 budget. The school board is asking the city to contribute $3,489,707, an increase of $28,124 from the current budget.

Earlier this month, the Virginia Department of Education revealed that a mistake had been made in calculating the state aid provided to local school districts across the state for the fiscal years 2023 and 2024. The error means Lexington City Schools will receive $47,841 less in state aid for the 2023-2024 school year.

State education department officials are updating their formula and working to help school districts make up the deficits. Lexington City Schools has budgeted for the potential $47,841 loss in the fiscal year 2024 proposal.

The proposed salary increase for teachers also would increase the starting pay and step increases based on their years of experience. The proposed budget includes a 5.5% raise in starting salary with a 1.5% step increase for teachers.

“That just allows us to continue to modify the scale so that we can remain competitive,” Walters said. “We can get our starting salary scale a little bit higher, and then be able to still give those folks a raise on top of that bump.”

Janice Burguieres teaches her first-grade class at Harrington Waddell Elementary School. She’s been with Lexington City Schools for all 31 years of her teaching career. (Basnight photo)

Janice Burguieres, a first-grade teacher at Harrington Waddell Elementary School, said she would be happy to see a higher salary increase.

“I think in the past it was around three to five percent, so to see a seven percent increase is fantastic,” Burguieres said. “I think it speaks highly of our school board and their commitment to making sure that we’re compensated for the work that we do.”

Virginia adopted a 2022-2024 biennial budget last year that compensates school divisions for implementing a minimum 10% salary increase for employees over the current and upcoming academic years.

Walters said she initially drafted the 2024 budget to meet the 10% salary standard from the state. But the school board wanted a higher raise for teachers.

“Our initial draft of the budget in January had a five percent increase because the intention for us was to make sure we got that ten percent,” Walters said. “The school board said they wanted to do better than that, so we felt that a good compromise was the seven percent raise.”

Tim Diette, chair of the Lexington City School Board, said he’s pleased with the salary improvements but acknowledges the increases won’t solve all the financial issues teachers may face.

“The five percent raise last year didn’t even keep up with inflation,” he said. “We would be providing a twelve percent total increase over those two years and that still is actually less than some school districts last year in the broader area.”

Burguieres said she still finds it difficult to cover some of her expenses.

“I don’t think that we are paid enough,” she said. “Of course, the five percent increase helped but it hasn’t really been enough to cover those extra bucks that you’re spending on groceries. I don’t think that’s a criticism of our local school board, but there’s never enough money in the budget.”

The school board also wants to give a $500 bonus to employees who return for the 2023-24 school year as part of its efforts to keep teachers and staff from leaving for higher-paying jobs.

“I’ve been here for a year and a half, and I haven’t had a single teacher telling me that they were leaving us due to salary,” said Erin Gregg, the business manager for Lexington City Schools. “We compare our salary scales with the surrounding areas to make sure that we are not paying significantly below similarly staffed school districts.”

Lexington City School officials also budgeted for an additional staff person, which they call a paraprofessional, at Waddell Elementary School to help support its special needs students. School board members said a pay increase is necessary to help fill the positions.

“We lost a paraprofessional to another job, and they wanted to stay, but it was really because of the pay,” Diette said. “We want to be able to compensate our paraprofessionals in ways that sort of respect the work that they do.”

The budget proposal also includes a:
● Revised salary scale for food service workers with a starting salary of $13.20 an hour, which could cost the schools $11,526.
● Hiring a full-time office aide for Waddell Elementary School, which could cost the schools $25,721.
● Hiring a part-time teacher for English-language learners to the division, which could cost the schools $20,453.
● A projected 10% increase in monthly premiums for employee health insurance, and a 10% increase in the school division’s contributions for staff with Employee Plus One or family insurance plans, which could cost the schools $8,400.

Lexington City Council is expected to finalize the school board’s budget in May.