RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - There is growing reaction into Chesterfield’s proposed budget that does not include the extent of additional funding school leaders say they need to improve area schools.
Friday evening, the County Administrator said Chesterfield just can’t afford to give teachers more than a two percent raise, but education advocates say there’s still time to make some changes.
Before the county votes on the proposed budget, there will be a series of community listening sessions, similar to ones that have already been held. Education supporters want to know if county leaders plan to listen.
"It comes off as being tone-deaf,” says Sonia Smith with the Chesterfield Education Association.
As a teacher, she participated in this week’s school walkout where teachers demanded more money.
"It’s disappointing for a lot of people,” she said.
That’s because the superintendent of schools asked for an additional $99 million to boost Chesterfield Schools. In the county’s proposed budget, schools will only get an additional $55 million. Much of the concern centers around teacher pay.
"The federal government’s role is very little to none, if you will, on funding a teacher salary. The state’s role is becoming less and less every year. I think we’re down below 50% as far as their role so what once was a predominate partner in funding a teacher’s salary is becoming less and less as they go along,” County Administrator Joseph Casey said.
Casey says he understands the frustrations, adding that his wife, mother and sister all taught. County leaders say 85% of each new dollar in the proposed budget is being allocated to education.
Casey says there are numerous concerns related to education that his budget will address, including maintenance, aging buildings and tackling a growing number of incoming students. As far as salaries go, his budget calls for a 2% pay raise for teachers.
“That does not address an increase in the cost of living. It also does not address inflation and when you add in the increase in health insurance. What looks like 2% on paper then becomes closer to a 0.9,” Smith added.
At a news conference Friday, Casey said it’s time to get creative to figure out how to get more money in teacher’s pockets - including more tutoring opportunities so they can supplement their income. He also suggested the education foundation fundraise to help offset the costs teachers face. Casey mentioned the Chesterfield Education Foundation, which receives public donations to benefit area schools.
Meantime, the county is hiring a firm to study teacher pay and their findings could result in more salary increases as soon as January. There are $2.5 million in reserves that could make that happen.
A series of community meetings kick off next week to discuss the budget in general. The first one will be held March 12 at Clover Hill Library at 1 p.m. followed by another on March 16 at the John Tyler Community College’s Midlothian campus at 7 p.m.
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