If the School Board gets its way, the school day will be lengthened by 15 to 30 minutes and all teachers will get a raise. Increasing the length of the elementary school day has been a longstanding goal of board members, and the plan to tie it to raises for teachers emerged last week during the School Board’s budget process. City Council members will have the final say when they appropriate funding to the schools.
“I am happier about this budget than I’ve ever been about any budget in the nine years that I’ve been on the School Board,” said Vice Chairwoman Sally Ann Baynard. “We need the extra time in the school day, and teachers deserve a raise."
The board will fully fund Superintendent Rebecca Perry’s $2 million proposal to increase the pay scale for new teachers with bachelor’s degrees. In addition, board members voted last week to add $4.8 million to the plan so that all teachers in the system would get a raise.
The city's school system employs 349 teachers with a bachelor's degree and 902 teachers with a master's degree. The salary scale for bachelor's degrees is structured to encourage teachers to get a graduate degree. So Perry's recommendation for increasing new teachers with a bachelor's degree would have a limited influence on the salary of most teachers in the system. The superintendent’s office has yet to determine exactly how the raises will be distributed under the new plan.
“Under the original proposal, the people at the top of the scale would not have received much of a raise,” said Lisa Cachion, executive director of the Education Association of Alexandria. “We’re very uncomfortable with tying increased compensation to increased time.”
To pay for the raises, School Board members took money from several sources. The biggest source was an unexpected $2.8 million from the commonwealth because Virginia Retirement Rates were lower than expected. Another source of funding was the elimination of $116,459 to hire a station director for the school system's television station, a position that Perry recommended in December.
To round out funding for the proposal, the School Board found a new source of revenue by increasing fees by 3 percent — including the price of school lunches. The fee increase will add $15,127 to the School Board’s plan — but it may be a problem for students to buy cafeteria lunches.
“This will change the price of school lunches from $2 to $2.05,” said School Board member Melissa Luby. “We are asking kids to keep up with an extra nickel, and I think that’s going to create extra work for principals and teachers.”
UNDER THE PLAN, the salaries of School Board members would double from $7,500 to $15,000. The salary of the chairman will see a gain of $8,400, from $8,600 to $17,000. Baynard suggested the raise, saying that she feared the position would become “the hobby horse of the leisure class.” She said salaries in neighboring Arlington County were much more, with board members receiving a salary of $19,500 and the chairman receiving an extra $2,000. In Fairfax County, board members receive $12,000 with an extra $1,000 for the chairman.
“What low-income person is going to be able to spend time on this?” she asked, adding that she would like to see a more diverse cross-section of society represented on the Alexandria School Board. “I would like to see a board that has apartment dwellers.”
Board member Ken Foran disagreed with the raises. In December, he and board members Mark Eaton, Gwendolyn Lewis and Mark Wilkoff opposed the idea of raises for School Board members. But a majority supported the raises, so the raises ended up in the School Board’s proposed budget last week.
“I don’t this School Board has justified this kind of an increase in the eyes of the public,” Foran said. “I’ve not had people knocking my door down asking me to double the School Board salary.”
THE $181 MILLION BUDGET represents a $15 million increase over last year for the school system, which experienced a membership decrease of 456 students in that time. After deleting 25.5 positions, the budget adds 12 new positions — a net decrease of 13.5 positions. When the system’s 22 reserve positions are accounted for, the school system has a net increase of 8.5 positions.
Overall, the School Board’s budget is a 6.9 percent increase over last year. This fits within the target of 7.3-percent growth target set for the schools by City Council last year.
“Even with the teacher raises, we are within the target that the city set for us,” said School Board member Arthur Schmalz. “I’m very proud of this budget.”
In addition to raises for teachers and School Board members, board made several other additions to the superintendent’s budget: $61,586 for an evaluation of the High School Technology Integration Project by an outside consultant, $50,000 for outreach and publicity and $20,000 for Advanced Placement tutoring stipends.
A public hearing about the School Board’s budget has been scheduled for March 13 at City Hall.