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Richmond County educators highlight low pay

Posted on Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 9:22 am

When Dist. 5 School Board member Ken Blackley received a list of a salary scale comparison for teachers in the Northern Neck and Essex County, he was shocked by what he saw.

He noticed how teachers in Richmond County, who had between eight and 22 years of experience, were paid less than teachers with the same level of experience in the region, including the four counties of the Northern Neck and Essex County.

“They just pass us and go on by us,” said Blackley. “How would you ever correct this?”

Superintendent Greg Smith and Director of Finance Susan Johns, however, have a plan.

On Feb. 13, Smith shared with the school board the budget committee’s proposal to pay teachers more through the use of salary caps.

In a budget workshop that followed a regularly scheduled board meeting, Dr. Smith drew attention to the salary scale for the 2012-13 school year.

According to the scale, there are 30 steps for teachers, with each step correlating with the number of years of teaching experience.

The scale showed that Richmond County teachers in Step 0 were paid $2,181 higher than the five-county average for teachers in the zero step.

However, salary for teachers in the county increased more slowly than for teachers in the five-county area until Step 23, when pay sharply increases from $45,581 to $52,810.

Step 18 displayed the biggest deficiency in salary for teachers in Richmond County as they lagged behind the five-county mean by $3,789.

But Richmond County teachers in Step 30, or the longevity step, received $58,970, or $3,140 more than the mean.

Furthermore, in comparison to 131 reported school divisions in Virginia, Richmond County’s teacher salary scale ranked 59th for new hires, 79th after five years, 97th after 10, 100th after 15, 98th after 20 and 40th after 30.

“We do reasonably well at the bottom, exceptional at the top and very poorly in the middle,” said Dr. Smith.

In order to improve the salary steps, the superintendent recommended that the school board cap the scale at Step 30 at $58,970.

“So when you reach $58,970, that’s it for your career,” said Blackley, which Dr. Smith confirmed.

Dr. Smith added that for the 2013-14 school year, they would project state funds for a 2 percent pay raise based on the governor’s budget to Steps 0-29.

He said the redistribution of salary money would bring the steps in line with the county average.

“That would keep firm the upper level salary schedule we have, but that would increase all the deficiencies in the salary that you see,” Smith told the board.

As of this year, there are 61 teachers listed in Steps 0 through 23 and 30 in Step 30. During the school board meeting, Dr. Smith said that 47 percent of the payroll is directed to the 30 individuals at the top of the scale.

Although Dr. Smith noted their longevity was a “positive things in many respects,” he said veteran teachers have told him that if there was a little bit of incentive to help with insurance, then they would like to retire.

In discussing the retirement incentive program that he proposed for RCPS, Smith said: “This is a way to help those individuals find a way to retire, and it also benefits the school system.”

The board approved Smith’s proposal 5-0.

The program will grant eligibility to teachers who are at least 50 years of age, have worked 10 years in RCPS with 20 years of experience in the Virginia Retirement System and are eligible for service retirement that is not utilized by any other type of disability option.

Through the program, the employer will contribute $6,000 per year to a 403B account in the employee’s name. The payout will be made for 5 years or until the employee becomes eligible for Medicare.

Payments will be made annually in July. The benefits of retirement under the incentive plan will not be transferable to anyone other than the retiree.

Dr. Smith said that should employees near the top of the scale retire, the schools could also apply those funds to the salary scale.

The superintendent added that the incentive program will not be used to “push anyone to retire,” but to “give them an incentive that may help them to be able to afford…a well-deserved retirement.”

Following the board’s approval of the program, Smith said they would begin taking applications from interested teachers at 8 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14.

“We have a cap on this [program] at approximately nine participants, because really that’s all we can afford at this time,” said Dr. Smith.

As of press time, the Richmond County School Board office has received six applications with additional teachers needing more time to consider the program.