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Mecklenburg teacher pay raises promised, but funding is in doubt / February 06, 2013
Promises of pay raises for teachers and other school staff emanating out of Richmond have left local school officials in a bind, since they don’t know exactly where the money is coming from.

2013 is the year of the teacher, according to pronouncements by Gov. Bob McDonnell. But his education budget, and budget versions unveiled this weekend by the money committees in the House of Delegates and state Senate, offer modest pay raises only on the condition that localities put up matching funds.

The governor is calling for a 2 percent teacher pay raise — the first in years — while House and Senate budgets would match that proposed bump. The Senate also is looking to provide a 3 percent pay increase for state workers.

The teacher raises, however, are contingent upon Mecklenburg County coming up with its share of the budget increase. Under the governor’s $6 billion education budget, Mecklenburg County is allotted $24.99 million for the coming fiscal year, a $750,000 decline from the existing level. Of the nearly $25 million appropriation, $252,102 is earmarked for 2 percent pay raise for all funded instructional positions — teachers, principals, assistant principals, guidance counselors, librarians and instructional aides — starting July 1.

Access to the money for pay raises is also contingent on passage of the Governor’s Educator Fairness Act, which moved through the Senate Tuesday by a 40-0 vote. The proposed act would extend teacher probationary status from 3 to 5 years and moves toward performance-based pay for educators, tying student performance evaluations to their contracts.

In the state Senate, the Finance Committee upped Mecklenburg County’s share of the education budget to $25.1 million. In contrast to the governor’s proposal, the Senate budget offers 2 percent raises to school support personnel, including school board members, administrators, fiscal officers, human resources, and administrative support staff, as well as bus drivers, maintenance staff and security personnel. Any county that wants to take advantage of the funds set aside by the Senate for pay raises, however, must provide matching funds.

The House Appropriations Committee follows the Senate by providing additional monies for support position pay raises. However, the House budget only allocates $17,524 to Mecklenburg County for these raises, and delays payment of them until fiscal year 2014. Like the Senate bill, the House budget requires a matching portion from the county if Mecklenburg wants to take advantage of monies set aside for pay raises.

Mecklenburg School Superintendent James Thornton, in a recent presentation to the School Board, applauded the governor’s support of the teachers, but highlighted the problems with his funding approach.

In Mecklenburg County, a 2 percent pay raise for all instructional positions — not including the bus drivers, lunch room or maintenance staff — would cost $500,000. Even with matching funds, Mecklenburg County comes up $90,000 short on instructional staff pay raises alone.

Thornton says the schools’ financial problems worsen when comparing the needs of the district to the actual funding levels proposed by Governor. The funding levels proposed by the House and Senate are better, he said, but still don’t satisfy the district’s financial needs.

In looking at the governor’s budget, Thornton said, “If we do not fund the [matching portion of the] raise, then we are starting with a deficit of about $350,000 to start the budget cycle. If we do fund the raise, then we are starting with a deficit of about $450,000 to start the budget cycle.”

Even under the House and Senate bills, which increase state funding to $25 million and $25.1 million, respectively, the school division must look for new ways to trim its budget to provide the pay raises, said Thornton.

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If you get a raise, then have to pay it back in property taxes, is it really a raise?

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