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Schools seek 10 percent funding hike from city

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A 10 percent increase in local funding is sought by the Martinsville schools for the coming fiscal year, largely to help attract and keep good teachers.

In a unanimous vote, the Martinsville School Board on Monday approved on first reading a $21.3 million budget proposal for fiscal 2014 that covers the hiring of six new teachers and requests $6,360,531 in local funds.

That amount is $660,531 more than the $5.7 million that the city gave the schools for the current fiscal year. The school board had sought a little more than $5.8 million, but the full amount was denied due to tight city finances.

The board will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget during its next meeting April 8 before considering approval. If that approval is given, the local funding request will go to Martinsville City Council to be considered as part of the city budgeting process for the new fiscal year that will start July 1.

The spending plan includes funds for the Piedmont Governor’s School and to continue arts and athletic programs, advanced placement courses and a “dual enrollment” program that lets high school students earn community college associate’s degrees while they earn their high school diplomas.

Funds also are included for the Science, Engineering, Math and Aerospace Academy (SEMAA) at Martinsville Middle School and preschool programs at the Clearview Early Childhood Center.

In the past several years, the schools have eliminated more than 100 jobs, including those of some teachers, due to budget constraints.

Superintendent Pam Heath told the board that the budget proposal funds only what is essential to educate students according to minimum state and federal requirements, and additional teachers are necessary to do that. She did not detail the six new teaching positions proposed.

The budget proposal includes pay raises mandated by the state which are needed to help school system employees contribute 5 percent of their yearly salaries to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS). The contribution now is required by the state.

However, due to a 2 percent payroll tax hike that took effect on Jan. 1 and other factors, some employees will not see an increase in their take-home pay, Heath said. Others will see their take-home pay drop, she added.

When the state mandated the 5 percent contribution last year, it required school systems and localities to give employees pay raises to compensate. They were allowed to implement the contribution all at once or in stages.

Schools officials determined that implementing the entire contribution would cost more overall than implementing it in stages.

For the current year, the school board funded 1 percent of the contribution, but 65 percent of the 132 school systems statewide implemented the full 5 percent. The proposed budget brings the city schools up to 5 percent.

According to Heath, the school system basically had no choice but to bring its contribution up to 5 percent immediately.

Not implementing it fully last year “really hurt us in teacher recruitment,” she said. “Teachers were ready to sign contracts with us and then we lost them” to systems that implemented the full 5 percent.

“When 65 percent of school systems in the state are already there (at the mandated 5 percent), we can’t afford not to be there,” said Robert Williams, the school board’s vice chairman.

“We need that (5 percent) to even be able to talk to” prospective employees, added board member Craig Dietrich.

Fully covering VRS contributions now “may help us retain staff that we have,” Dietrich said, but “it remains to be seen” if it will help the schools attract new employees.

Statistics show the Martinsville schools dropped sharply in the past year in salary rankings. For example, among Virginia’s 132 school systems, the city fell from 97th to 111th for teachers with bachelor’s degrees and 10 years’ experience. It fell from 118th to 127th for those teaching for 25 years.

Schools officials indicated that the city council must give the schools all of the local funding they are requesting for the new fiscal year if they are to continue to try and attract highly-qualified teachers.

Giving the schools the same amount they received for the current budget year would not be enough, said board member Carolyn McCraw. She said it would make the schools backslide.

Without more money, the schools will not be able to teach students what they need to know to get jobs in today’s career world, said McCraw, a retired teacher at Martinsville High School.

“Having highly qualified teachers is a critical piece” of the process of educating students properly, Heath said.

In the past, the city council has been “very good” to give the schools more local funding than the state required it to — even when allocations were cut, said Chairman Bill Manning.

But this year, he said, “we, as a board, have got to work very hard with the city council to help them understand (school needs) and rally the community behind us.”

Also Monday, the school board adopted a resolution to add to the Virginia School Boards Association’s Business Honor Roll the names of six area firms that have helped the Martinsville schools in various ways.

Those firms are American National Bank, Eastman, Martinsville Speedway, Solid Stone Fabrics, Nelson Automobile Family and RTI International Metals.

The board also met in closed session to discuss personnel matters but took no action afterward.


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