The Fredericksburg School Board’s top budget priority for the next school year is giving teachers a 5 percent raise so the city’s school system can remain competitive.

Hiring 19 additional teachers to deal with growth and keep some from having to teach an extra class is a close second, and the increase in health insurance comes in third, School Board member Jennifer Boyd said during a joint meeting of City Council and the School Board on Tuesday in the Executive Plaza building.

“We very well understand the situation that we’re in as a city with all the competing requirements, and we are more than willing to work with you. However, I felt that it was very important that we present to you what we feel we really need,” she said during her PowerPoint presentation. “We know we are not likely to come out with the entire amount.”

The joint meeting was the last the time the two groups would meet together before City Council holds a public hearing on City Manager Tim Baroody’s proposed $100.4 million operating budget at 7 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers at City Hall, 715 Princess Anne St. His budget provides about $1 million less for the city’s schools than the School Board is seeking in its $47.9 million operating budget.

The School Board’s budget includes the 5 percent salary increase for all positions. The General Assembly had included a 2 percent increase for Virginia’s teachers in its budget starting July 1, but Gov. Ralph Northam proposed amending it to include 3 percent more, saying that this would help attract and retain teachers and make their salaries more competitive with other states. The General Assembly approved the amendment last month.

Boyd said that the city’s school system would be at a “significant disadvantage” if its teachers weren’t given a pay raise and other school systems did, especially since there is a teacher shortage in Virginia and the nation.

“If we’re not able to get a salary increase, quality individuals will be harder to come by and we will have to spend more on training, a cost that doesn’t have a lot of return on investment,” she said.

Currently, Fredericksburg’s starting salary for teachers is in the middle of the pack for this area, and the city has an advantage over its neighbors when it comes to the pay offered to teachers from mid-career to the top of the salary tier, Boyd said.

“That gives us significant power in attraction and retention,” she said. “We’d like to stay where we are with a 5 percent increase, but some school systems are expecting to give more than 5 percent.”

Boyd said that 88 percent of the budget the School Board approved for next school year is for staffing, including the pay raises and 19 requested new positions.

“Given the requirements that we have, there’s not a lot of wiggle room,” she said. “I think it’s very telling that 88 percent is staffing.”

Boyd said that there have been questions from residents about the budget including a 5 percent increase for Melton, who is the highest paid superintendent in the area. She said the School Board determines any increase he will get, and the 5 percent for his position had to be included to give it flexibility.

She said that the new positions are needed to handle an enrollment that has grown 19 percent since 2009. Two of the additional positions in the School Board’s upcoming budget were actually filled this year due to an unexpectedly high enrollment at Hugh Mercer Elementary School. They were not positions included in the current budget, and have to be counted as new ones.

Boyd said enrollment growth is “something we need to account for. It’s not going away.”

Adding more teachers will help reduce class size and keep some teachers from having to take on an extra class or teach more students than the state standards allow unless they receive additional compensation. A number have had to do that this school year, she said. Larger class sizes can create discipline issues and affect student achievement, as well as cause teacher burnout.

Students in the city’s schools are 64 percent minority, almost 60 percent are lower income and 22 percent are in English Language Learners programs, added Superintendent David Melton.

“Because of our demographics and our class sizes, we have discipline issues,” he said. “Teachers can go to other school systems that have lower discipline issues and class sizes. The additional teaching positions hopefully will lower [teacher-pupil] ratios. We have a lot of students with a lot of needs.”

Boyd said that the School Board is looking into ways to help lower costs in other areas, such as collaborating with neighboring localities on regional programs.

Following her presentation, City Council member Kerry Devine asked if the city is “really getting the bang for the buck” with some programs at the schools, including the International Baccalaureate program. She is concerned that the cost of the program is high, enrollment in it at James Monroe High School is low.

“It’s a new program, and the numbers are going up. We’re only in the second year of graduating a cohort. It takes time to develop that,” said Boyd.

She added that the larger impact of the program that she’s seen is the difference in such things as students’ critical thinking skills and ability to work together.

Melton said that Fredericksburg is the only school division locally without a governor’s school, and that parents want to see more offerings besides Advanced Placement classes. He said the governor’s school would cost more than the IB program.

School Board member Jarvis Bailey pointed out that some AP students at JM take one or more IB classes.

Melton and Deputy Superintendent Marcie Catlett added that the IB program is in alignment with the way the state is moving in education as it shifts away from emphasis on Standards of Learning-based to a more holistic instruction.

Devine said that she was also concerned because the school system’s SOL scores were low last year.

“We need to think hard about how to measure the impact of IB,” Boyd said. “You’re not going to see it in SOL scores. It’s a lot more of the intangible skills that our students are going to be able to take on in college and beyond.”

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Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407

cjett@freelancestar.com