All employees of Stafford County Public Schools will receive a 5 percent raise next year under the budget adopted this week by the School Board.

In addition, the budget provides $500,000 to raise the pay of administrative assistants and other non-teacher positions identified in a compensation study conducted last year by Evergreen Solutions as being below the minimum market salary. The funding will help cut the gap in half.

The $305.4 million operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 was approved by all board members with the exception of Hartwood District representative Holly Hazard, who said her no vote reflected her concerns that the budget does not meet the challenges of continued growth in the school division.

School division staff had to cut $2.5 million from the budget approved by the School Board in February, after the Board of Supervisors proposed transferring $127 million to the schools instead of the $129.6 million requested by Superintendent Scott Kizner.

The supervisors’ vote included a stipulation that the county could reduce the transfer to the schools if the School Board did not provide the 5 percent raise, which will cost nearly $10.7 million.

The largest portion of the savings, almost $1.7 million, came from cutting new positions, compensation and benefits. The adopted budget eliminates a proposed 1 percent increase to teachers with more than 13 years of experience, for a savings of $796,999.

It also removes $181,000 in stipend adjustments, some of which would have gone to teachers who work on individual education plans for students with special needs.

The adopted budget cuts three proposed new positions, including one new school counselor.

Other cuts were made to proposed capital replacement projects, materials and supplies and professional development funds to reach the total of $2.5 million.

The adopted budget includes 27 new teacher positions—seven elementary positions, 15 middle-school and four high school positions and one position at the Phoenix Center for Innovative Learning—and moves school nurses to the teacher salary scale.

Board members acknowledged the hard work of representatives from the Stafford Education Association, who advocated at state and local levels for the 5 percent across-the-board pay raise.

“I want to thank our employees led by the Stafford Education Association,” said George Washington District representative Dewayne McCosker. “You really have to bring the story to the elected officials or else the story is lost.”

Members also thanked supervisors for approving a 2-cent increase to the county’s real estate tax, which will bring in new revenue.

“It was hard for them to come up with this money with other pressures, so I appreciate that they were able to do as much as they did,” Falmouth District representative Sarah Chase said.

Griffis–Widewater district representative Jaime Decatur said she was “excited” to support the budget but that “tomorrow, we still have a lot of work to do to make this an amazing place for our teachers and staff members and a continued amazing place for our kids.”

Hazard echoed board members in expressing happiness in being able to give teachers the 5 percent raise, but said the raise was made possible by additional state funding, rather than local funding. She said 58 percent of the projected nearly $15.8 million in new revenue for the school division will come from the state and only 39 percent from the county.

“I do not see a commitment to ‘get out ahead’ of ‘what the others are doing’ from Stafford County,” Hazard said. “This budget attempts to ‘keep up with the Joneses,’ but Stafford County Public Schools does not keep up because of what got cut or was not addressed in this budget.”

She said Stafford’s per-pupil spending of $10,245—in fiscal year 2018—is “very low compared to most Virginia jurisdictions,” adding that the amount of per-pupil spending decreased between fiscal years 2017 and 2018.

“Perhaps Stafford County elected officials should work together to come up with what is the appropriate measure of per-pupil spending in Stafford,” she said.

Hazard also said she thinks the budget does not address ramifications of School Board votes over the past year, such as raising class sizes by recalculating school capacity and creating additional elementary schools with high needs by the redistricting vote.

Moncure and Conway elementary schools will have high percentages of students on free and reduced lunch next year—45.7 and 32 percent, respectively. Division staff recommend hiring three new teachers at Moncure and two at Conway to maintain class size caps.

“I thought I heard for months from board members that resources will follow the elementary students that are moved,” Hazard said. “Seven positions [funded by the budget adopted Tuesday night] will not address those needs.”

The Board of Supervisors will take a final vote on the county budget May 7.

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Adele Uphaus–Conner: 540/735-1973 auphaus@freelancestar.com @flsadele

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