By Christian Basnight
Teachers in Rockbridge County, Buena Vista and Lexington are likely to see a bump in pay this fall. But it’s unclear how much of an increase they will get.
Stephanie Brooks, an English teacher at Rockbridge County High School, said she would love to get a 7% pay hike proposed by the school board. But she’d settle for the 5% pay raise that Virginia’s governor is seeking—and the county Board of Supervisors says it can do.
“Five percent is fine, and we’ll accept whatever we can get, but it’s a matter of keeping competitive pay,” she said. “Seven would balance us out and make us closer to some surrounding school divisions.”
Virginia lawmakers consider three school budget proposals—one from the governor, one from the House of Delegates, and a budget from the Senate. Legislators then compromise to produce a final budget that determines the amount of aid the state will give school districts. Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s budget includes a 5% pay raise for teachers, while the state House of Delegates and Senate are pushing for 7%.
Rockbridge County School Board members disagree on 7% raise
Last month, the Rockbridge County School Board submitted its estimate of expected expenses for the 2023-2024 school year. The school board’s $36 million budget proposal includes a 7% pay raise for school employees. The county would cover $17.2 million of the budget, which represents a $1.2 million increase from the current fiscal year.
Phillip Thompson, superintendent of Rockbridge County Public Schools, said the school board wants a 7% raise for all district employees, teachers and staff to prevent people from taking jobs elsewhere.
“I think our teachers and staff deserve [the seven percent raise],” he said. “Inflation is at a high, and we want to be able to keep as many of our staff members as we can here in Rockbridge County, rather than they go to a neighboring school division that may be paying a little bit more than we are.”
But not everyone is on board with the proposed increase. At a joint meeting last month with the school board, members of the county Board of Supervisors said they can’t fund the 7% raise for all school district employees.
“I know you all had asked for seven percent, and we would love to give you twenty percent,” said David McDaniel, the board’s chair. “It’s just too much for our budget.”
Last month, the board closed a $1.9 million gap between its anticipated revenues and the spending that county departments requested for the upcoming year. The budget gap forced the supervisors to lower the pay raises sought by the school board to 5% from 7%.
The number crunching is occurring as local districts are grappling with the impact of low teacher compensation. Some educators say they feel overworked. Others are leaving for higher-paying jobs.
“Many teachers are not earning a livable wage,” said Brooks, the high school English teacher. “They are not able, with inflation and everything else, to pay bills and sustain themselves and their families while also keeping their job.”
Buena Vista ups proposed pay increase
Buena Vista school officials also want a 7% pay raise for teachers and staff.
The school board originally budgeted for a 5% pay hike for teachers and staff for the second consecutive year. Board members said the raises would help the district compete with other schools.
“If you don’t give seven, you’re going to fall farther behind those that do,” said Tony Francis, superintendent of Buena Vista City Public Schools.
Buena Vista’s school board sent its 2023-2024 budget proposal to city council last week. The 7% raise would require an additional $215,000 in funding. School officials said they hope the city will make up the difference from what the state provides.
School districts must meet the pay increases that state lawmakers and the governor ultimately approve. If they don’t, districts won’t receive state aid.
Rockbridge County Administrator Spencer Suter said he anticipates that the final state budget will feature a 5% raise for teachers.
He said a 7% raise would strain the county’s resources because the state doesn’t cover the whole cost of raising pay for teachers.
“The state says they’re giving a seven percent raise when in reality, they’re only giving about half the money that it takes to give that raise,” Suter said. “If you’re giving it across the board, the locality then has to come up with the rest of it, and then the burden is on local taxes like real estate and personal property.”
Francis said he’s confident the final state budget will include a 7% raise for teachers. But he wants to ensure that other school employees receive the same pay raise.
“I shared with the school board that it is a possibility teachers will get a seven percent raise while other staff would receive less,” he said.
Francis said the school board doesn’t like that scenario. “They would like to see everyone get seven.”
The Buena Vista school board included the 7% pay raise for all employees in its $2.5 million proposed budget that it submitted to city council. Francis said he doesn’t know if city council can cover a 7% district-wide pay raise.
Lexington schools match other districts’ raises
Lexington City School officials also included a 7% pay raise for teachers and staff in the 2024 fiscal year budget, which would cost roughly $211,390. The school division implemented a 5% salary raise for teachers for the 2023 fiscal year.
“Teachers are not paid the best of many professions, especially for folks that are going and getting an education,” said Rebecca Walters, Lexington City Schools superintendent. “We’re always trying to show our gratitude, appreciation, and value of our employees by offering some kind of a salary increase.”
The Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors, along with the Buena Vista and Lexington city councils, are expected to decide on their respective budget proposals in May.
Officials in all three school districts said the sooner state lawmakers and the governor approve a final budget, the better.