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Albemarle division studying salaries as teachers feel pinch
Kate Acuff, Albemarle County School Board - Feb 2, 2016
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Albemarle School Board Chairwoman Kate Acuff.
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Aaron Richardson | Friday, February 10, 2017 at 7:16 p.m.

If not for the generosity of his mother-in-law, Sal Giordano and his family would not be able to go on their annual beach vacation. Without the familial support, a vacation rental and travel for Giordano and his wife and two children is financially out of reach.

Personal savings and savings for his children’s college education are also out of the financial picture, said Giordano, who has taught social studies at Albemarle High School for 10 years.

Giordano is not alone. Charlottesville Tomorrow interviewed eight county teachers whose experiences are similar to Giordano’s.

Teachers have taken their concerns to division central office staff, and the county schools’ human resources department is preparing a report on teacher pay, said Lorna Gerome, the division’s human resources director.

Catherine Coffman, a 25-year teacher who chairs Albemarle High’s math department and coaches the girls’ crew and cross country teams, said stipends she receives for those posts are the only reason her take-home pay has increased.

“The only reason I am in any better situation is because I do a bunch of extra stuff,” she said. “My basic pay has not changed hardly at all.”

Giordano, Coffman and their colleagues said the pay in Albemarle does not match the quality of the schools. Education assessment organization Niche in January ranked the county schools among the top five divisions in the state, and in the top 5 percent of school divisions nationally.

“[We are] in a community that values education, in a school system that sends students to 25 of the 30 top universities nationwide, and as a teacher I can afford to put almost nothing away, let alone savings for myself, but savings for my children’s education,” Giordano said.

Teachers, including Giordano and AHS social studies teacher and boys’ soccer coach Scott Jackson, reported taking second jobs to make ends meet.

“As teachers, we all want to live in the county, and it can be a challenge to raise your family in Albemarle County,” said Jackson, who is also a trainer and coach at a private soccer facility. “And sometimes you have to take a second job if you want to own a home in this county.”

The county has provided raises of 1 percent or more for teachers in each of the last six budgets, costing the county $10.8 million since the 2011-12 budget.

The county school board on Tuesday night approved a 2017-18 budget request that includes a 2 percent raise for all full-time division staff at a cost of about $2.4 million.

Increases to the Virginia Retirement System and a 7 percent bump in health insurance premiums will cost the schools another $2.4 million, according to Moran’s budget request.

Before passing the request on to the Board of Supervisors, the School Board added $215,000 for a reserve fund to increase bus driver pay.

But, teachers say, the raises are eaten up by these increases for benefits. The county gave teachers a 6 percent increase in 2012-13, but five-sixths of the raise was to compensate for a new requirement that employees contribute to their retirement accounts.

A 2015 report from the division shows that, when adjusted for inflation, teacher take-home pay declined since 2009.

That pay differential is largely due to increasing demands on localities to pay for health insurance and retirement costs, while state support has dwindled, officials said.

State aid to the schools has risen from a low in the 2011-12 school year, but is still below 2009 funding levels when adjusted for inflation.

“It seems like the county really has their hands tied with the revenue they are able to distribute,” Jackson said. “I don’t think teachers are upset with administrators at all; it’s just where we are as a community and as a state.”

County teachers are paid on a scale that increases one step each year for 31 years. This year, first-year county teachers with a bachelor’s degree are paid $45,400, according to the schools’ website.

The final step on the scale, for years 31 and after, is $68,000 for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree.

The county schools have long used the salaries of divisions contiguous to Albemarle, as well as select localities from around the state, to identify a “competitive market” on which to base teacher pay.

“The board implemented a strategy many years ago, with the understanding that the most important facet of the division is our teachers,” said county Assistant Superintendent Matt Haas. “The strategy was crafted with the goal of attracting and retaining the highest-quality teachers.”

School Board Chairwoman Kate Acuff said the board has received about 200 letters from teachers over the last six months asking for pay raises and for the board to reconsider the competitive market.

“There have been quite a few poignant accounts of teachers not being able to afford the cost of living in Albemarle so that their own children cannot go to our schools,” she said. “That is painful to read, but at the same time, we have 2,400 teachers and this is a relatively small subset.”

Albemarle’s competitive market includes Charlottesville and Buckingham, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson counties, as well as Fauquier, Loudoun and Prince William counties.

Teachers argue that the market, adopted in 2000, unfairly includes the salaries of counties with much lower costs of living than Charlottesville and Albemarle, and does not come close enough to matching the salaries of higher-paying divisions in Northern Virginia.

A 2006 school division policy dictates that county teachers will be paid at the bottom of the top 25 percent of the adopted market. As teachers move up Albemarle’s pay scale, county budget documents show, their salaries become less and less competitive.

Administrators stand by the efficacy of the competitive market.

Though counties such as Buckingham and Greene pay less than Albemarle, they said, their proximity makes them competitors.

“We do compete with Buckingham and Greene County; I can’t imagine if you were coming out of college, that you wouldn’t also apply to schools in Buckingham and Greene County,” Haas said. “I think there is some wisdom in having the local market, and then picking [higher-paying] places that draw the market up a little bit.”

A starting teacher in Albemarle County is paid closer to the middle of the top quartile, while a teacher with 30 years’ of experience is paid at the very bottom of the competitive range, according to a 2015 county market comparison.

Division staff is in the midst of preparing a report on teacher pay and the competitive market, Haas said. Among other things, staff will look at whether to move salaries up from the bottom of the top quartile.

While they are studying the market, officials said, the division does not have trouble filling vacant teaching positions.

“We typically have 100 or 110 teacher openings per year out of 2,400 teachers, and we typically get around 1,000 applicants,” Acuff said. “Unlike the bus drivers or the food service workers where we cannot fill the gaps and we lose workers to Wegmans, the salary issue is not keeping teachers from wanting to work here.”

 

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