Teacher salaries among top concerns during hearing

WOODSTOCK – Better pay for teachers drew strong support among members of the community at a public hearing Thursday night on the proposed 2017-2018 Shenandoah County Public Schools budget.

Superintendent Mark Johnston proposed a $64,811,247 budget at last Thursday’s school board meeting, which is almost $3.2 million higher than the current year’s $61.6 million budget.

The proposed budget includes $2,094,127 for employee compensation and benefits, $762,390 for instructional personnel and resources, $57,000 for communication resources and $280,969 for operating efficiencies.

Five community members who spoke about the proposed budget agreed that teachers need to be a priority.

Gerald William Talley said Johnston made a compelling case on the county’s contribution to the budget, but added that there will be resistance.

“I think personally, teaching in the public school system is a calling,” Talley said. “It’s not just a job, it’s a calling.”

Eugenia Kemble, of Fort Valley, a chair of the Shenandoah Democrats Education Committee and member of Parents’ Alliance for Strong Schools, spoke in regard to teacher compensation.

She said teachers don’t get paid enough and their health benefits aren’t enough, making it difficult to retain quality teachers.

“You’re going to get a less experienced staff and a more stressed out experienced staff because they are going to have to teach all these new people how to function,” she added. “It’s not cost effective.”

“The Board of Supervisors does not represent the public sentiment in this county,” she said.

Kemble added that teacher replacement rates are high because they need professional development and need to be mentored by experienced teachers.

She added that it is also disappointing that the budget doesn’t include additional preschool funding for staff and resources.

She said money needs to be spent on the school system to ensure the kids leaving the schools after graduation are able to find good jobs and contribute to the county’s economy.

“You’re not going to have an economy that has good jobs if you don’t pay taxes for good schools” she said.

“I hope this year the Board of Supervisors will get its head out of the sand before it’s too late,” she added.

Brandy Boies, president of the Strasburg Rotary, said she has three young daughters attending the county’s schools and echoed that teaching is a calling, and has a friend who is a teacher in the county.

“I have a lot of respect for teachers,” Boies said. “What she does for her students in the classroom is absolutely amazing.”

She said that while the division has remarkable individuals working for them, they are ready to leave because of the lack of resources provided to them.

“This isn’t about just teaching. This is about raising kids. We’re hiring people in the school system to raise kids,” she said.

She also thanked the School Board for fighting for the teachers and students.

“Fight for what our teachers deserve. Fight for what our kids deserve,” she added.

Ryan Richmond, of Edinburg, has two daughters attending W. W. Robinson Elementary School and said he is satisfied with the proposed increase in family health care coverage.

The proposed budget includes a step increase in salary for eligible employees, a1 percent increase for cost of living adjustment and increased employer contribution for dependents on employee health insurance.

“I think what Dr. Johnston proposed is definitely a step in the right direction. I think that will have a bigger impact on teachers that need that coverage than even a small salary increase,” he said.

He added that he is also happy to see the request for two additional special education teachers, even though more are needed.

“There’s so many more students coming to the school district that need special education services,” he said. “I think special education teachers are just imperative to get more of in this county.”

Seth Coffman, of Edinburg, a member of Parents’ Alliance for Strong Schools, agreed that teachers need to be fairly compensated for the work they are doing each day.

“They all do this work because they care about kids and they’re passionate about that profession. We know that teachers are the most important and the most impactful on a students’ education,” he said.

He added that there are a lot of needs that must be addressed in the budget.

“We have a lot of needs and the needs are great, but I think those needs can be opportunities. We need to find ways to turn those challenges into opportunities to improve our education system for our schools,” he said.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com