School board considers raise for employees at top of pay scale

School board members looked into the possibility of giving a raise to employees at the highest level of the district’s pay scale as budget discussions continued at Tuesday’s board meeting.

Superintendent Mark Miear said 127 employees are currently at the highest level, or step, and that some have been there for several years. There are 30 steps for teachers and 24 steps for classified workers.

Because they are on the highest step of the pay scale, these employees will not receive the salary enhancement that other employees are budgeted to receive in either June 2017 or January 2018.

“In essence, they would only get a cost-of-living raise,” Miear told the board.

But the district is already facing a smaller budget than Miear originally requested in February and in order to give a raise, the board will have to make cuts elsewhere.

Miear suggested applying an average cut of 3.5 percent to undesignated fund items, which includes things such as travel, instructional supplies and vehicle maintenance supplies. Doing so would free up $170,000, which would be enough to comfortably cover the $150,000 Miear expects the salary raise to cost.

Board members expressed hesitation toward the possible raise.

District C representative James Lyons said he feels the district’s current 30-step pay scale is adequate and that he is concerned the raise isn’t sustainable.

“I don’t want to create a step by giving a raise this year that we are going to have to continue to follow through with because it’s going to be the expectation,” Lyons said.

District G representative Mark Cherbaka was also concerned about the financial consequences of the raise, but said he would be interested in looking at other options to support employees at the highest pay scale steps.

“Maybe there’s something we can do this year to show appreciation, without digging a hole for ourselves,” Cherbaka said.

Miear reminded board members that the district usually gains access to a significant amount of lapse funding at the beginning of every school year, because salary costs projected in the annual budget are usually higher than the actual cost once employees and salaries are finalized. Miear said the lapse funding will become available in late September, and that the district could use that funding to help reverse any cuts made for a salary raise.

“In any school division, anywhere, there’s usually significant lapse,” Miear said. “And so I’m not greatly concerned with that $170,000 at the end of the day.”

Most of the representatives said they were concerned that a cut to items like instructional supplies would mean that teachers would eventually have to pay out-of-pocket for their supplies.

“I don’t know how comfortable I am with not knowing exactly what areas it’s going to impact,” said Penny Franklin, who represents District B.

However, she said she also believes the employees need to receive recognition for their work.

“We need to do everything we can to someday reach above the national level that our employees are being paid, because our employees are doing work well beyond that,” Franklin said.

Members will officially adopt a budget at the next school board meeting at 7 p.m. April 18 at the Montgomery County Government Center, 750 Imperial St., Christiansburg. A special public hearing on the budget will be held at 7 p.m. April 25 at the Montgomery County Government Center, 750 Imperial St., Christiansburg.

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