Members of the Williamsburg-James City County School Board advocated for improving compensation for all teachers while also reducing the burden of an increase to the health insurance rate during Tuesday’s Board meeting.
School division staff presented a proposal to eliminate “step” compression, which has prevented some teachers from receiving salary increases for periods of two to three years since the Great Recession, as part of the Fiscal Year 2017 Operating Budget.
The new pay scale introduces a salary increase for every year of service with WJCC Schools. For example, the base salary for teachers with eight, nine or 10 years with the school division is currently the same, but the new scale will allow distinct salaries for each year of service.
Tim Baker, the school division’s senior director of talent management and organizational development, said the goal is to expand the pay scale so in future years teachers will receive a 1.5 percent salary increase annually.
For fiscal 2017, all school division employees would see an average 1.5 percent salary increase at a cost of $2.4 million.
Additionally, staff has proposed increasing the entry-level salary for first-year teachers with a bachelor’s degree from $40,301 to $41,500.
If nearby school divisions do not change their entry-level teacher salaries, WJCC Schools would move from one of the lowest starting salaries to the “middle of the pack,” Baker said.
Board members Jim Beers (Roberts) and Sandy Young (Berkeley) said they were concerned with the “average” salary increase, which they said means some employees could unfairly receive a smaller or larger increase than their colleagues.
“I’m in a quandary about that,” Beers said. “If that’s the number we’re going to use to compensate individuals that are paid far more than a classroom teacher, I’m concerned about classroom teachers getting one percent or less.”
Young said all teachers should benefit from a full 1.5 percent increase, especially those with the most experience in WJCC Schools.
“If we’re treating all employee groups the same, that includes teachers who are at the top of the pay scale,” Young said. “They should not be getting less than the 1.5 percent increase.”
During public comment before the presentation, Vicki Robertson, a kindergarten teacher at Clara Byrd Baker Elementary School urged the board to fairly distribute raises so teachers who have spent their entire career working for the school division can benefit.
She illustrated her point with what she called a “kindergarten” example of giving two cookies to a 4-year-old child and none to a 6-year-old simply because he was more “mature.”
“No teacher in their right mind would do this, but WJCC has done this to me and other employees,” Robertson said. “If you as a School Board do not think this way of thinking is fair, do not let it happen again.”
Baker also discussed the results of a health insurance task force, which met last year to explore health insurance options for the upcoming fiscal year.
The school division is facing an additional 2 percent increase in the health insurance rate in fiscal 2017. The task force determined that the $318,775 burden could be carried by the school division, employees or shared by both.
The task force’s recommendations included introducing a health insurance surcharge for employees whose spouses are on their plan but can access coverage from their employers.
Baker said the surcharge could be between $50 and $100, a number he did not think would dissuade many employees and their spouses from staying on the plan.
“It’s still a good bargain. It’s still a good deal,” Baker said of the health insurance.
Board Chairman Jim Kelly (Jamestown) said as the board determines where to direct the burden of the rate increase, it must be mindful of how shifting the cost to employees could impact their take-home pay.
“This is really something we need to think about and understand when we’re changing this, that whatever salary increase we could be giving them could be taken away,” Kelly said. “This is a cost to the employee … It’s another hit we’re going to give them.”
The School Board must present a balanced budget to the Board of Supervisors and the City Council on or before April 1. The localities must approve a budget appropriation for the school division by May 15.