CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) – Members of the Chesterfield County School Board, state lawmakers and Superintendent Merv Daugherty met on Tuesday evening to set county priorities as the Virginia General Assembly prepares for meet under a new administration.
The topic that dominated the night’s conversation was the constant preoccupation of Commonwealth school divisions: funding.
Education does not pay
Chesterfield, like many towns across the country, has been hit by a shortage of staff in all areas of the school system, from teachers and counselors to bus drivers and cafeteria workers.
School board members pointed to chronic low salaries and a lack of new teachers, saying they were struggling to convince teachers to come to Virginia for uncompetitive rates.
According to a study by the Commonwealth Institute, a non-partisan research organization based in Richmond, Virginia has the tenth highest median income in the country, but ranks 41st for per student spending, more than $ 3,000 lower than the national average.
This funding gap affects teacher pay – Virginia was ranked as the worst state for teacher pay in 2021. Even though many states have lower average teacher salaries than Virginia, the researchers found that because the average wages in general – and the cost of living – were so high. higher in Virginia, teachers were actually relatively worse off than in other places.
School board member Debbie Bailey said she hoped they could find funds to provide higher wages: “The more we can make employment opportunities in Chesterfield more attractive, the more attractive we will be to them. . “
A report from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) shows that Chesterfield temporarily increased teachers’ salaries by 10% in 2019, from $ 49,174 to $ 55,677. This put Chesterfield teachers above the state average of $ 53,933.
But the pay didn’t last. State statistics show that the average salary in 2020 fell 10% to $ 50,070, indicating that the high salary was more akin to a one-time bonus than a lasting increase.
The Council’s presentation to lawmakers called for more state support for teacher compensation, stressing the need “to increase the share of public education in the state budget to support innovation, teacher salaries and pension costs ”.
Senator Ghazala Hashmi, who sits on the Senate Education Committee, said she would use the session to push forward measures to increase the number of teachers entering the workforce, including debt relief student for public school teachers and grants for students seeking education degrees.
Show me the money
One program touted by Superintendent Daugherty was the County Virtual Learning Program. While the distance learning option, like many in the area’s school divisions, faced a tough reception at first, it was hailed by school board members earlier this year as a success.
“Students who had problems in school excelled in the virtual world,” said Daugherty.
He said he sees the opportunity to alleviate some aspect of the teacher shortage by supplementing classroom instruction with virtual sessions. It’s a program the school division has already started using for some math lessons, citing a severe shortage of qualified instructors.
“We have so many children to date in the Commonwealth,” said delegate Carrie Coyner, highlighting the learning losses in the wake of the pandemic. She said she would propose legislation demanding higher standards for the quality of e-learning options, based on “scientific methods”.
This raised concerns on the part of Superintendent Daugherty and members of the Board of Directors. One point of frustration has been so-called “unfunded mandates” – directives from the General Assembly or VDOE that require local school divisions to implement policies but do not provide public funding. to implement them.
“A lot of laws go through the system,” Daugherty said. “We would appreciate the funding coming with it. “
When asked if his proposal would come with funding, Coyner assured the board, “It does. We will also submit a budget item at the same time.