Claims of overstaffing at schools nearly stall salary talks in Richmond County
The hotbed issue of teachers’ raises took center stage again during last week’s Richmond County budget work session.
At issue were discrepancies between what one supervisor considered tabulations that suited his agenda and the district’s school superintendent, whose calculations vastly differed.
On April 17, Dist. 3 Supervisor John Haynes “reluctantly” agreed to tentatively approve a 2 percent pay raise and inclusion in the county’s medical health benefit plan for educational faculty with the caveat that he would likely not approve of hikes in the future after his findings showed alleged overstaffing at local schools.
“With great hesitance, I will agree to move to raising the medical,” Haynes said at the conclusion of the meeting. “But, I do want to also to say that in the future I am probably going to be a little more harsh because I honestly do believe that we are overstaffed. I will reluctantly go along with it.”
The conversation initially began weeks ago, after a member of a local “concerned tax-payer” political faction raised concerns about student to teacher ratios at local schools, saying that teacher cuts could solve school budget allocations.
Last week, Haynes echoed those statements, adding that by his calculations, there was a student to teacher ratio of approximately 10.3 to 1.
“I am not saying you’re not allowed to calculate as you want, but I think the general public would consider that 10.3 to be accurate,” Haynes said, being interrupted by a member of the audience who vocally disagreed. “That’s the sticking point. There must be something that I don’t see. It seems to me that that is a lot more teachers than we need.”
It was a perception that Schools Superintendent Dr. Greg Smith went into great detail to prove wrong, including photographic evidence of classrooms and their populations.
According to Smith, Haynes’ calculations included non-core personnel, those teachers outside the basic studies of English, Math, Social Studies and Science, and included art, Physical Education as well as many other educators into his calculation.
When looking at just classroom core staff to student ratios, Smith came up with a vastly different number; 19 to 1.
“When a parent walks into the school, and they go to their 1st grade child’s classroom and they are doing math…that is what initially matters,” Smith said. “If you go into the 3rd grade classroom and they are teaching Science, that is what actually matters. How many children are in those core instructional classrooms?
That is the most relevant and most salient photograph in the vision that every parent has.”
Smith went on to pass out pictures of classrooms taken that day at area schools.
“These are classrooms that are filled,” Smith said. “These are classrooms that we have a lot of kids in.”
He added that the classrooms are effectively being utilized.
“So to really respond to the question, you can look at staffing ratios or look at classrooms,” Smith said.
After asking if there was any “appreciable difference between salaries for core personnel and art or music teachers, Haynes reiterated that he had trouble “separating” out the differences.
“I am not disputing [what] you are saying is accurate, it is just for my purposes…that is why it is hard for me to differentiate between the two,” Haynes said.
According to the Virginia Department of Education, however, Richmond County’s student to teacher ratio is comparable regionally, and often at the higher end of the spectrum.
When using numbers similar to Haynes, the VDOE places Richmond County at a 13.08 student to teacher ratio for grades K-7 with Essex at 11.5, Lancaster at 10.6, Westmoreland at 13.6 and Northumberland at 17.3.
Additionally, at the grades 8 – 12 levels Richmond county averages second highest in the region at 11.01 students per teacher with Essex at 12.1, Lancaster at 9.1, Westmoreland at 8.3 and Northumberland at 10.4.
It is also important to note that of those counties, Richmond has the lowest educational budget yet has placed highest in those districts according to recent state academic standards.
According to Smith, his department had worked very hard to ensure that the budget was as austere as possible while maintaining the current level of educational services.
He added that non-core staff was integral to students’ success.
“I wouldn’t say that any comments I’ve made here would devalue anything that any of the faculty members do because it is all important to the instructional program,” Smith said. “So when you are looking at the fundamental components of the instructional programs…those are critical, critical parts of the instruction.”
Earlier in the meeting, Haynes had asked if cost savings from retiring teachers who are at the top of the pay scale could offset part or all of the proposed teacher raises.
Smith explained that after eight years without a new textbook program, ensuring that students had the best materials possible was his priority for any actualized savings.
Noting that just one science series for grades 1 though 12 costs approximately $75,000, Smith said extra funds would be quickly eaten away.
Dict 1. Supervisor Richard Thomas noted that he was in favor of new school textbooks, adding that his knowledge of the school’s history, which aligns with previously state mandated regulations, required new books every four to six years.
A consensus to appropriate funds to the schools for a 2 percent raise was carried, with Thomas, whose wife works for the schools, abstaining due to a conflict of interest and Dist. 2 Supervisor Jean Harper withholding comment.
A public hearing on the budget will be held on May 2 at 7 p.m. in the county meeting room adjacent to the sheriff’s office.