Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed a budget bill that includes funds for the state’s share of a 2 percent pay raise for teachers.
The funds were distributed to school divisions under Virginia’s local composite index formula, but only if the localities provided matching funds to fully pay for the salary increase.
Roanoke County’s school board, wrestling with tough budget decisions, decided not to fund the pay raises. But board members have argued that the county still should have received $700,000 in state funding that it would have gained for teacher salary increases. That’s because the county fully funded a 3 percent raise last year without any help from the state, the board argued. The county did get state support for a 5 percent salary increase that was designed to offset new pension contribution requirements for teachers.
At a news conference this morning, Democratic House of Delegates candidate Freeda Cathcart of Roanoke argued that Republican incumbent Chris Head, R-Botetourt County, should have done more to help the county get those funds. Head said that he pleaded the county’s case to senior House budget-writers, who turned down the extraordinary request.
Roanoke County was one of only 12 systems in the state that not approve raises for this school year.
Cathcart appeared with Roanoke County school board members Jerry Canada and David Wymer at the Vinton War Memorial to call attention to the issue.
“One of the big challenges that’s facing the Roanoke County school system is the lack of funding, the new revenue from the state that could have been brought home last year if our current delegate had put some extra effort into it,” said Catchart, referring to the funds the state earmarked for teacher raises.
“When I get to Richmond, I will work hard to bring home these funds and to make them retroactive,” said Cathcart, who is making a second bid for the 17th District House seat.
Canada, the board chairman, said state funding for Roanoke County’s schools has been cut by $14.8 million since 2008 and ongoing budget pressures could “require our school division to make decisions that will be high-profile and unpopular.”
The school board members said they lobbied members of the Roanoke Valley legislative delegation to allow Roanoke County to receive the $700,000 in state aid without giving teachers a raise for a second consecutive year.
“It’s not like that was going to be additional money in the budget,” Wymer said. “That money was in the budget and did not come to Roanoke County.”
Head said he raised the issue with senior members of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee and was told that the panel would reject such a request.
“It was shot down with blinding speed,” he said.
“Asking for an exception for one county over another, it would have taken a majority vote and, to my knowledge, no one else was asking for something like that,” Head said. “It was an odd sort of exception. There’s nothing wrong with them asking. But I don’t think they had any expectation that they were really going to get it.”
“When have you ever heard of anybody being able to get credit for this year’s deal based on what you did last year?” said Head, who called Cathcart’s criticism misplaced,
“This is a great example of somebody making comments about something that they know very little about ,” he said. “I don’t think she understands the legislative process or the budgeting process at all, but if she did I don’t think she would be making comments like this.”