Attracting, retaining teachers, school security highlight Weston’s $55M budget

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: April 17, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.

DCPS requests $653,000 increase in county funding for upcoming year

DINWIDDIE – With the understanding that the school division is competing with other schools in the region for much of the same talent pool, Dinwiddie County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kari Weston’s proposed budget seeks to continue investments into teacher and staff pay in order to attract and retain instructors while making investments in other key areas during the upcoming year.

Weston formally presented her FY2020 budget to the Dinwiddie School Board during their regular meeting last week, walking the five board members and the public through her $55 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year, slated to begin on July 1. During her half-hour presentation, the superintendent explained that the budget was constructed around four pillars – student success, safe and secure schools, employee excellence, and resource management, with those four items being responsible for the $2.3 million increase in expenditures when compared to the current year budget and a 5.2 percent increase in the school operating fund, which is proposed at $46.3 million.

The budget presentation is also an opportunity for the school division to walk through various metrics surround student achievement, noting graduation rates remain steady in the county, with the four-year rate standing at 88 percent, while the five year rests at 92 percent, and two-thirds of graduates do pursue post-secondary education based on current data but, she noted students are taking other opportunities as well, such as pursuing training in trades through vocational and technical centers.

In an effort to continue to improve student achievement in the school division, Weston proposed just over $600,000 in spending, including $205,000 to place reading specialists in all of the county’s elementary school. She told board members their ultimate goal is to have these specialists in all of the county’s schools, including Dinwiddie Middle School and Dinwiddie High School in the future. 

In addition, Weston earmarked just over $325,000 to help reduce class sizes, particularly in the K-1 classes as the school system faces, as she called it, “a good problem” of increasing enrollment in the county while addressing some unintended consequences of the implementation of the new GEN Block at the middle and high school as, according to Weston, some of the core classes at the schools became “overloaded,” but not in such a way that the school division is over required guidelines.

“Having a class of 25 13-year-olds can be a challenge so we are looking to relieve that in the middle school,” she explained.

As part of her proposed budget, Weston also seeks the addition of an assessment and data coordinator position at a cost of $65,000, citing the sheer number of testing that occurs during a given school year, which is normally overseen by guidance counselors and assistant principals. According to Weston, with the state now wanting those counselors to focus more on counseling students, the need exists for someone on the secondary level to help the school division collect data from various standardized tests, certifications, and other testing that can be used in future decision making. 

Investments are also made in special education, with Weston telling school board members the need exists to possibly add 1-2 more special education instructors as the school division’s demographics continue to change as 16 percent of Dinwiddie Schools’ student population are special education students and, according to Weston, that is above the state average and they are seeing an increase in that student group as more people move in the county, with $65,000 being earmarked for the item. 

The school division also plans to spend about $94,000 to expand early childhood programs in Dinwiddie by adding a preschool class in the McKenney area. Down the road, Weston hopes the school system is able to provide all students an opportunity to take part in the program.

The bulk of the budget changes over last year came in the area of “Employee Excellence,” with $1.4 million in additional spending as a result of an increase of the school division’s base pay and a step increase for teachers. According to Weston, as part of this budget, teachers will see a pay increase of between four to five percent this coming fiscal year, adding that this pay increase “would be more” than what Governor Ralph Northam proposed for a teacher pay increase for Standards of Quality-funded positions over the course biennial budget for the Commonwealth, which was a five percent raise for those SOQ positions over the two-year budget.

In addition, the school division seeks to raise its base pay by $1,500 from $43,000 to $44,500 in the upcoming fiscal year which, according to data compiled by the school division, would place Dinwiddie Schools close in line with Chesterfield, Richmond, Hanover, and Henrico in terms of base pay. Currently, Richmond has the highest base pay of the Central-Southside Virginia region at $45,046.

Dinwiddie Schools Superintendent Dr. Kari Weston presents her budget to the Dinwiddie School Board last week.

Raising the base pay and the step increase for teachers results in a nearly $1 million increase in spending over the current-year budget. When factoring in non-teacher compensation, which will see a step increase for those employees as well at a cost of $195,000, the total cost of teacher and staff compensation in the proposed budget is $1.19 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

“This is the biggest part of our budget,” Weston explained. “Teacher salaries are a real issue here in Virginia,” saying the state trails many when it comes to salaries. According to a 2018 report from the National Education Association, Virginia ranked in the mid-30s in the nation in 2016 and 2017 in regards to average teacher salary, with 2017 showing a modest increase of the prior year up to $51,049, which is over $8,600 below the national average of $59,660. The Commonwealth’s neighbors to the north in Washington D.C. and Maryland rank among the top 10 in America in regards to average teacher salary, with D.C. ranking fourth in the 2018 report with an average salary of $75,692, and Maryland ranking seventh with an average teacher salary of $68,357.

The school division also expects to see an increase in health insurance costs of roughly 14 percent, which results in a $224,929 increase of that item.

Additionally, the budget sees an increase in compensation for the school board with just under $6,100 earmarked to that area. According to Weston, the board can “only vote for the next board’s compensation” and this adjustment would put the Dinwiddie School Board “more in line with boards in the area, but below many in the state.”

In regards to security, Weston has identified $72,000 that will be used to add a school security officer at the middle and high school, noting the number of afterschool activities and other programs is among the top reasons for this need and they have worked with the county on getting a grant and hope to hear if they were approved in the near future. 

The budget also has $25,000 set aside to help support the school division’s athletic programs, citing increasing costs in providing referees and umpires at sporting events.

“We have an athletic program here in Dinwiddie County that is second-to-none so this funding allows us to provide support to that program,” Weston said.

Another $193,000 was identified and earmarked for the coming year’s budget to cover contractual services, utility costs, and insurance payments for the approaching fiscal year in Weston’s budget. 

In order to support this budget, revenue is needed and, within Weston’s budget, it requests an additional $653,000 in funding from the county. Based on their current enrollment figures, which the budget is built off of an average daily membership of 4,315, up from last year, the school division expects to see a bump in state revenue while also losing a small amount of other funding that was tied to helping the school division when enrollment was declining.

According to school system data, county funding makes up a third of Dinwiddie Schools’ revenue, with state dollars making up the remaining two-thirds, with federal funding other sources accounting for less than one percent of the school division’s revenue streams.

Even though the budget was presented last week, state law does not allow for local boards to have a public hearing and act on a budget on the same day, with a minimum of seven days needing to pass before any action can be taken, which gives the public additional time to provide comments.

According to school division documents, the school board is expected to adopt the FY2020 budget on April 23.

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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