By Alex Bridges
A Shenandoah County supervisor maintained her stance on taxes and spending after drawing fire from upset teachers Tuesday.
Dozens of people spoke at a public hearing urging the Board of Supervisors to raise taxes in order to increase pay for teachers. Many of those speakers who work for the school system lashed out at District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey for comments she made in a letter to the editor published in the Daily that criticized teachers.
"It was no surprise that the teacher's lobby group would be there in full force because I have made it known that I would be scrutinizing every budget," Bailey said Wednesday.
The county would need to increase the real estate tax rate by 5.5 cents to 59.5 cents per $100 of assessed value to raise the money needed to fully fund the school system's budget requests. Most speakers supported the tax increase to help the school system increase employee salaries.
Shenandoah County Public Schools pays $39,500 to new teachers with a bachelor's degree, according to information from Superintendent Jeremy Raley. Teachers with five years of experience and a degree are paid $39,702. The school system needs an additional $1.73 million to increase salaries and benefits for teachers and $284,835 for all other employees, Raley said.
Supporters of the tax increase claimed that the county was losing teachers to other systems that can pay more. At the same time, the county's schools need new computers and equipment as well as repairs, supporters said at the hearing.
In reaction to the turnout at the hearing, Bailey pointed out that teachers have a strong support base to lobby for their wants and needs. Bailey said the private sector lacks this kind of support and has not had a voice for some time.
"I don't see anything wrong with an elected official standing up and speaking out for the private sector, the other important piece of our community," Bailey said. "Both private and public sectors are, in my mind, valued the same. They're equal. But the private sector does not have an equal voice and there are a lot of reasons for that."
Bailey pointed out the danger of expressing an opinion about teacher salaries and education funding.
"It's a 'how dare you' attitude, how dare you question what we need," Bailey said. "I'm not gonna be intimidated by that."
Bailey also responded to claims that she's a "puppet."
"I'm the opposite," Bailey said. "I'm not saying what the special interests, any group wants me to say. I'm speaking the truth. This is unsustainable, this spending and tax increases."
A few speakers at the public hearing told the board the county needs to expand its tax base by bringing in more businesses and industries that would create new, higher-paying jobs. Bailey echoed that sentiment, adding that the county needs to lift some of the tax burden off the shoulders of property owners.
Bailey's approach to the budgets for the county and the school system mirrored her campaign platform.
"I'm for reigning in spending," Bailey said.
The supervisor said she has asked Raley to hold the line on the system's budget. The system should plan ahead for its spending needs, Bailey said. She suggested that the school system take any surplus funds such as those it has recently requested and put the money toward buying new computers or other necessary equipment. Bailey pointed out that the school system has buildings in need of repairs.
The supervisor said that data on teacher salaries shows pay has increased over the years. Bailey said she doesn't believe the claim that teachers have not received pay increases in years. Bailey also argues that the salaries for teachers in Shenandoah County fall in line with neighboring systems.
"I also have never said, or it was not said in the letter, that [teachers] aren't hard working," Bailey said. "I have never said that and it is a choice, it is a calling like law enforcement was for me."
A few speakers told the board teachers often work long hours, before and long after the normal school day, for no extra compensation.
"It is a calling and those who choose to put the extra hours in that's their choice and that's in every profession as well," Bailey added.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org