ASHLAND -- A number of speakers endorsed the proposed 2021 budget of Dr. Michael Gill, Hanover County Public Schools superintendent, during a public hearing last week at the Central Office.
Aside from one speaker who likened the public comments to a “cheering section” for the proposed budget, most provided positive comments regarding Gill’s $199.4 million operating budget.
The superintendent had presented his proposed budget the week before. It included:
l A 2 percent raise for all employees.
l A scale adjustment to address salary compression.
l Salary increases for all bus drivers.
l Continuation of five-year technology plan that provided devices to all middle and high school students by 2021.
l Funding for vestibules at 17 county campuses to enhance security.
l Continued funding for increasing healthcare costs.
l Six behavioral support positions.
l Two new school counselors.
l One Behavioral Intervention System Coordinator.
l One clinic assistant.
Hanover Education Association president Gene Matthews and Hanover Professional Educators president Bill Callahan said they sought input from their members in the week since Gill presented his proposal.
“Most (members) realize that Dr. Gill has been tasked with an almost impossible job: in a year when the Governor [Ralph Northam] has proposed no raises, when state aid is declining due to readjusted Local Composite Index (LCI) and dropping enrollment (which, by the way, is not his fault, he has been asked to develop a budget which incentivizes our excellent experienced teachers to remain in Hanover, maintains instructional quality and expands support from all the key stakeholders,” Matthews told board members.
Matthews said his members especially appreciated an effort based largely on local support, and praised officials for enhancing efforts to recruit and retain Hanover bus drivers.
Regarding the 2 percent raise outlined in Gill’s proposal, Callahan said any monies that might be forthcoming in the state’s final budget should be applied to salaries, “especially for experienced teachers whose salaries lag behind those in surrounding counties by considerable terms.”
While Hanover’s proposal included a 2 percent raise for all employees, the Governor’s proposed budget allocates no funds for teacher salaries in the first year of his two-year budget. A 3 percent raise is slated for the next year.
Some legislators have suggested splitting the increase over two years, or making it a 2-1 proposal regarding raises.
In either case, it seems there is a groundswell of support to provide more K-12 funds this year, and the final budget could provide additional funds for Hanover and other localities.
Dr. Gill assured those assembled for the meeting that any increased funds would indeed be slated for salaries and compensation.
“The money that we do have is going to go to those who serve our students, not only our teachers but all of our staff,” he said. “We’re proud that we present a budget that operates within the means that we have.”
The superintendent noted that Hanover ranks first in the percentage of budget directly linked to classroom instruction, including salaries and compensation.
“Our employees, those who serve our most prized resource, our students, are always first and foremost and will continue to be in the budget,” Gill said.
Many speakers and the superintendent noted that the Governor’s proposed budget does not represent the final figures, and there is a possibility that Hanover could receive additional funds, but no guarantees.
“If Hanover County were to be the recipient of significant additional funds, compensation for those who serve our students will be first and foremost,” the superintendent said.
Norman Sulser, Cold Harbor District representative, said he supports a 3 percent annual increase in this year’s proposal to maintain Hanover’s competitive edge in hiring and retaining teachers. He encouraged the governor to provide more funding.
“I believe that Governor Northam needs to get off his *** and put his money where his mouth is relative to funds for K-12,” Sulser said.
Callahan also asked school officials to absorb all costs associated with increased healthcare costs, and noted that employee raises are often negated by the increased premiums and inflation.
He also requested administration research ways to enhance job satisfaction and ensure the balance of work and quality of life issues.
“It is axiomatic; in order to have happy students, we need happy teachers,” Callahan said.
Stephanie Kim, a Hanover resident and mother of an Atlee High School student, asked the board to consider adding an inclusion specialist to this year’s proposal.
While her special needs daughter is enrolled in mostly mainstream classes, her special education teacher is required to monitor her work in those regular classes and provide alternative assignments in addition to her duties teaching classes.
Amy Gathje, president of Hanover’s PTA Council, also had high praise for Gill’s proposal as did Brett Christian, Hanover Education Foundation president.
Local minister Josh Hayden said his church’s work with Hanover schools is most rewarding, considering the “great challenges” facing educators today. “I believe that this budget will help provide more resources to help every child have the opportunity to grow,” he said.
Hanover parent Rachel Levy said she supports the budget proposal, and noted the superintendent’s letter that accompanied this budget proposal correctly pointed out shortcomings in the state’s budget for education. But she also noted the absence of analysis regarding local funding, citing the county’s low tax rate that has not been adjusted since before the recession.
“We need to be transparent about the budget situation,” Levy said. “If we are going to be upset about the state, we should also be upset about the locality.”
Board members will consider and take action on the superintendent’s proposal at their Feb. 11 meeting.
In the meantime, board members will hold two-on-two meetings (two board members and Dr. Gill, senior staff) in the coming days for continued budget discussions. The superintendent presents the school board’s approved budget to the Hanover County Board of Supervisors on Feb. 12.
That panel is expected to take action in April on the county budget, including the school board document.