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Albemarle School Board opts to stay with adopted competitive market for teacher salaries
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Credit: Aaron Richardson, Charlottesville Tomorrow
The Albemarle County School Board.
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Josh Mandell | Thursday, November 09, 2017 at 10:30 p.m.

ALBEMARLE COUNTY TEACHER SALARIES, 2017-2018

For teachers with a bachelor's degree:

» 0 years of experience: $46,000
» 10 years of experience: $50,625
» 20 years of experience: $57,900
» 30 years of experience: $67,600

Before its Thursday meeting was truncated by a malfunctioning fire alarm, the Albemarle County School Board decided to continue using its adopted competitive market for teacher compensation after evaluating a new market methodology for several months.

Albemarle currently compares itself to 26 school divisions in Virginia, and salaries are targeted for the 75th percentile of the market.

At several meetings this year, the School Board contemplated moving a smaller, “performance-based” competitive market. The new market basket would have included nine or 10 Virginia school divisions rated highest by Niche, a company that compiles annual rankings of K-12 schools, colleges and neighborhoods. Albemarle was ranked third among Virginia school divisions this year.

At a special meeting of the School Board on Wednesday, all members agreed to scrap the proposed methodology before bringing it to a vote. 

School Board Chairwoman Kate Acuff said she was concerned that yearly changes to the Niche rankings could create uncertainty about teacher’s salaries and the division’s annual budget. She said further complexity would arise from adjusting the salaries of market comparators based on the cost of labor in each locality.

“We don’t have to change our market basket to recognize that we are a high-performing school division and craft compensation to recognize that,” she said.

School Board member Dave Oberg said he would like the board to consider elevating Albemarle’s position in the adopted market.

“We have artificially set ourselves at the bottom of the top quartile [of the adopted market]; that’s kind of an arbitrary decision,” Oberg said. “Moving to a higher percentile doesn’t involve all the machinations of having to change the market basket ... potentially every year.”

Superintendent Pam Moran said she also was interested in aiming for a higher target in the adopted market.

“There are all kinds of things you could do to move [salaries] up without changing the market,” Moran said. “We really are prioritizing teacher compensation and doing the work we need to do to get to a different place with this,” she added.

Some teachers have said the adopted competitive market is skewed by the inclusion of many localities that are poorer than Albemarle. Moran said some of these school divisions could feasibly be removed from the market basket.

“There are some school systems you could take out of the competitive market because they are never going to influence the top quartile,” Moran said. “They are just never going to be there.”

Acuff said the School Board has received more than 100 letters this fall from the Albemarle Teacher Advocacy Group expressing support for the performance-based competitive market.

Albemarle High School teacher Sal Giordano said the board’s decision to keep the current competitive market wasn’t necessarily a setback for the Teacher Advocacy Group’s campaign.

“For teachers, the bottom line is the bottom line,” Giordano said. “Whether we move our place in the current market or adopt another market, if the net result is the same, teachers will see it as a good thing.”

After receiving many written complaints from teachers about inadequate pay this year, the School Board hired the Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. consulting firm to help the division complete a review of teacher compensation and the adopted competitive market.

The consultant’s study found that Albemarle’s salaries for teachers with 10 or more years of experience were lower most of the Virginia school divisions in Niche’s top 10, after adjusting for the cost of labor in each locality.

Last month, division staff recommended restructuring the 31-tier salary scale for teachers to establish a constant rate of increase with each additional year of experience. The one-time cost of adjusting salaries to the new scale in a single year is estimated at $1.5 million. Teachers with around 12 years of experience would receive the largest salary increases.

Currently, the scale has varied built-in increases that equally distribute compensation to teachers in their first, second, third and fourth decades of their careers.

The consultant also found that Albemarle’s stipends for academic leadership roles and extracurricular responsibilities also were low compared to other school divisions in Niche’s top 10. He recommended restoring $345,000 in stipend pay that was cut from Albemarle’s budget in 2010.

Gallagher & Co. said Albemarle County currently has little trouble recruiting or retaining teachers. However, leaders of the school division are concerned that a shrinking pool of teacher candidates nationwide could soon make this more difficult for Albemarle.

Moran said fewer students at Virginia universities today are majoring in education and becoming certified as teachers than in the past. Large school divisions in Northern Virginia currently are struggling to fill teaching positions, she said.

“Salary does matter, but you need to have a pool [of teachers],” Moran said. “That’s going to be a huge driver for us to stay competitive.”

Board member Stephen Koleszar said Albemarle should invest in creating its own teacher certification programs to bring in talent from the University of Virginia, James Madison University, and other colleges.

“We need to invest our own money in growing our own program,” Koleszar said. “We see this crisis is developing. If we are out in front, creating our own pool of teachers, it’s not going to hit us.”

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