By Susan Hale Thomas (File photo)
Amidst the small tweaks and adjustments made to Alexandria City Public Schools’ fiscal 2016 operating budget during the school board’s final work session on the issue last week, board members contemplated increasing annual stipends for the board.
Board member Kelly Booz floated the idea of a $5,000 increase — from $15,000 to $20,000 per year — for school board members, provided the district’s final budget approved by city council includes raises for all school staff.
Chairwoman Karen Graf said members have not received a raise since 2006, and Booz said the board is paid between $5,000 and $7,000 less per year than their counterparts in neighboring jurisdictions.
“While the stipend is not something to live by, by any means, there are real expenses serving as a board member both in terms of our time, and child care among other things,” Booz said. “I propose the increase with the assumptions that [the] step [increase] is happening for staff, also looking at increases for support staff, and coaching staff to bring them in line with surrounding jurisdictions. I proposed January 1 because I don’t think the sitting school board should be able to vote for their own raise.”
Board member Justin Keating supported the raise, noting that he will not run for reelection.
“Nobody is going to get rich in this job at $20,000 a year, but it just helps a little bit, to pay for the baby sitters,” he said. “[We] need to get to a full step [increase] for the people in our classrooms and the people supporting our classrooms, but after that I think the school board is justified to get a small increase.”
But vice chairman Chris Lewis and board members Patricia Hennig and Marc Williams were opposed to the idea due to the city’s budget constraints. Williams said he appreciated the caveats Booz put on put on the stipend increase, but said he didn’t feel the time was appropriate due to the city’s projected $16 million budget deficit.
“The city council continues to convey they ain’t got no money,” Williams said.
“Putting a raise in whether it’s anytime this year or not is going to be waving a red flag in front of council and in front of staff and I’m just not willing to do that,” Hennig agreed.
But Bill Campbell said with local elections coming this fall, now is the perfect time to discuss raises for board members.
“I feel it’s a good time,” he said. “I welcome the nut jobs who will talk about us giving ourselves a raise.”
Graf said board members will return to the issue in May, after they receive their annual appropriation from City Hall.
The board is slated to approve a $240.6 million budget for next year. Of that total, board members will request $201 million from city council. That’s a 4.8 percent increase over last year’s $191.8 million appropriation.
Elsewhere in the budget, members had suggested reducing or phasing out the option for retiring staff to receive a payout for unused sick leave. Payouts from 2012 through 2014 for 67 retiring employees ranged from $10,053 to $71,265, with an average payout of $20,349, with a total cost to the district of more than $900,000 over that period.
But after more than a dozen teachers came before the board to oppose the program’s elimination, it was subsequently saved.
During public comments at a budget work session last month, several former teachers expressed their concern at the cut of an administrative position from the English Language Learners office. The number of ELL students enrolling is projected to increase 56.4 percent from fiscal year 2012 to 2016, and last year some families had to wait for hours to be seen during the fall peak registration period. Keating proposed moving $45,000 from a fund for technology upgrades to pay for another position in the office.
The board also agreed to reallocate $50,000 from the communications and audio-visual equipment budget to fund a full-time specialist for the Special Education Parent Resource Center.
Board member Ronnie Campbell has been a long-time advocate of the resource center and lauded the move.
“There has been an issue in the past with students with special needs being excluded from after-school tutoring,” she said. “Given that a lot of students with special needs need extra help in academics, we want to make sure that they get the extra support when they need it.
“[This] school board is trying to make sure that there are no students with special needs whose needs are not being served. We have had students in our schools in the past whose needs have not been met fully and who were not served by us in the way they should be.”
The school board will vote tonight to approve the fiscal road map. City council will begin its own budget review in March.