By Aila Boyd
The Virginia General Assembly convened on Wednesday, which means legislators will be addressing a range of issues. Back in November, the Salem City School Board passed its legislative positions and priorities on issues that will likely come before the legislators.
The positions and priorities primarily fall into five categories, including: local control, school funding, full repeal of the support staff cap, employee compensation and assessment reform.
In the document the School Board approved on its positions and priorities, it said it “urges state and federal government leaders to create the conditions that facilitate innovation by supporting local School Board authority, while avoiding the temptation to micromanage a local function.”
When controlled for inflation, the document noted, the FY 2023 state budget is $161 less per pupil than in FY 2009. For that reason, the School Board urged the General Assembly to “adopt a state budget that fully funds its commitment to teaching and learning” in the document.
Dr. Curtis Hicks, superintendent, said, “Our desire is to see the gap between how teachers are funded and the economic capacity of Virginia shrink overtime.”
Full repeal of the support staff cap
The document describes the cap on support staff, which was implemented during the Great Recession, as “a significant and arbitrary limit on calculating actual costs.” The cap related to positions like teacher aides and assistant principals.
For that reason, the division is asking the legislature to repeal the cap, which it said has “artificially depressed the re-benchmarking calculation.”
“The reality is school divisions had to have those employees in order to run effectively and serve students and families,” Hicks said. “We would like to see the commonwealth remove these arbitrary support staff caps and fully fund education based on the standards of quality, which indicate the specific number of positions you’re required to have in a school division to meet accreditation standards.”
Due to the fact that “teacher salaries in Southwest Virginia rank near the bottom on the national comparisons,” the division is asking the legislature to establish measurable goals for improving teacher compensation throughout the commonwealth. It pointed to the effort to stabilize the Virginia Retirement System a few years ago as a guide for identifying a target, establishing a timeline and budgeting as a guide.
“We would certainly like to see funding for teachers in the commonwealth improve,” Hicks said.
“Further modernization of the system is necessary,” the document said of Virginia’s performance-based assessments. “The General Assembly is encouraged to reduce 1990’s era fixed-response assessments to the Federal Minimum to permit increased use of modern assessments by divisions without overtesting.”
Existing achievement measures, the document said, are “flawed and proving to be unwieldy and unhelpful.” For that reason, the division wants to be permitted to use Department of Education-approved assessment programs that are commercially available as an alternative to the through-year growth assessment system. Additionally, it wants the “use the student test identifier for divisions with commercially available, valid and SOL-aligned assessments to submit growth data as an alternative to the” Department of Education’s through-year growth.
Hicks said that although improvements have been made over the years on assessments, the division still feels there is room for improvement.
“The state has introduced performance-based assessments and as a school division we’re using those everywhere we can,” he said. “We think those are better assessments to better prepare students for the world they face upon graduation from high school and the need to be able to think creatively and critically. We would like to see the state continue to move in the direction of assessments that match the world we live in and the skills and expectations students are likely to face when they graduate.”
At the November meeting, the positions and priorities passed with all five members—David Preston, Artice Ledbetter, Nancy Bradley, Andy Raines and Teresa Sizemore-Hernandez—voting in favor.
Prior to the holiday break, Hicks and Preston met with Del. Joe McNamara and Sen. David Suetterlein to outline the positions and priorities for the division.