Gov. Eyes First Raise For Teachers Since 2007
Increase, However, Tied To Changes In Tenure System
Posted: December 14, 2012
HARRISONBURG — Gov. Bob McDonnell is prepared to give Virginia educators a 2 percent raise in fiscal 2014, as long as legislators approve contentious changes to continuing contracts for teachers.
On McDonnell’s radar for the next fiscal year is a 2 percent raise for public school employees and $15.8 million laid out for two monetary incentive programs that will be included in the budget proposal he will present to the General Assembly Monday.
But the raise, which area school administrators say is promising, does come with several conditions.
The pay boost will happen only if legislators pass a law that creates easier paths to firing teachers and if local divisions can match money for the raise provided by the state.
The Virginia Education Association, which advocates for teachers and education issues, has taken a strong stance against changes to Virginia’s continuing contract, which is similar to tenure for teachers.
The last time public school employees received a state-supported raise was in 2007, when a 3 percent salary increase was given.
The 2 percent raise proposed for 2013-14 would be backed by $58.7 million in state money.
Both Harrisonburg City Schools Superintendent Scott Kizner and Rockingham County Schools Superintendent Carol Fenn called the raise a “first step” toward getting teachers fairly compensated.
In Harrisonburg, teacher salaries range from $41,042 to $63,006, with $2,700 to $4,815 more possible for additional degrees.
In the county, teacher salaries range from $38,000 to $57,678, with anywhere from $1,000 to $4,010 possible on top of that for additional qualifications.
“I think the challenge again will be for localities to come up with their match,” said Kizner, who added that the information for specific school divisions has not been released.
According to The Associated Press, the local match would be determined by a sliding scale based on something called the composite index, requiring affluent school divisions to pay a larger share than poorer ones.
McDonnell said the money will remain in the budget regardless of whether Congress and the White House are able to agree on deficit reductions and avoid a year-end “fiscal cliff” that could affect Virginia’s economy and similarly eat into state tax revenues, the AP reported.
All instructional faculty are included in the raise: teachers, guidance counselors, librarians, instructional aides, principals and assistant principals.
But the raise is also contingent upon the passing of McDonnell’s proposed Educator Fairness Act. The act lengthens the time teachers must wait before being awarded a continuing contract from three to five years.
Both Kizner and Fenn support the longer probationary period.
“I believe our principals will find that helpful, allowing for a solid review of performance, if and when needed, before recommending that a beginning teacher is awarded a continuing contract,” Fenn said in an email.
The act also shortens the grievance process teachers can enter into after being dismissed and changes the definition of incompetence to mean that if a teacher receives any unsatisfactory reviews, they could be dismissed.
Currently, the law defines incompetence as “consistent failure to meet the endorsement requirements for the position or performance that is documented through evaluation to be consistently less than satisfactory.”
About the easier path to firing teachers, Kizner and Fenn said that would not mean teachers in the city or county would be pushed out the door without cause.
“Unless it is … something like being charged with a felony … I believe the process needs to include more than one isolated instructional [incident],” Fenn said.
Added Kizner: “My expectation from our principals is that we use multiple criteria before we determine that a teacher has an unsatisfactory evaluation.”
But, in arguments for keeping the continuing contract process as it now stands, the state education association and local branches of that organization say changing it will lead to job insecurity and fewer teachers entering the profession.
Also in McDonnell’s agenda are plans for a Virginia Teacher Cabinet, a group that would advise state officials on education, and more professional development opportunities for teachers.
“He is really putting a lot of effort in trying to build up the teaching profession,” Kizner said. “I do like the general direction that the governor is moving the state towards.”
Spending for McDonnell’s education package will be offset in part by savings and cuts recommended to him two weeks ago by state executive branch agency chiefs, the AP reported. The menu of cuts totals 4 percent, or nearly $132 million, McDonnell said.
Kizner said other announcements from McDonnell about his education reform package may not be so encouraging, though, and likely will include stances on more controversial issues, such as virtual learning and charter schools.
“But for today, I thought the governor’s proposals were based on sound principles,” Kizner said.
Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or firstname.lastname@example.org