By Stefanie Jackson – The Northampton County Public Schools proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 totals more than $22 million and includes a 4% raise for all teachers and staff, plus more money for health insurance for eligible positions.
“If we’re going to hire people and expect people to stay, we have to become a little bit more competitive in our health insurance,” said Superintendent Eddie Lawrence.
Full-time employees with health benefits will get an extra $20 per pay period for health insurance, or $40 per month.
That will increase Northampton schools’ monthly contributions for the cost of health insurance from $360 to $400.
The goal is for the school division to be contributing 70% of health insurance costs within “the course of five years. That’s going to be aggressive,” said Chief Financial Officer Brook Thomas.
The Virginia Education Association studied the percentages by which school divisions fund employee health insurance. Out of 118 participating school divisions, Northampton ranked dead last at 118.
“We have a lot of work to do on health insurance. It’s that stagnant,” Thomas said.
In previous years, raises were given, but health insurance contributions “stayed flat,” she noted.
The 4% raise proposed for next year was calculated using the midpoint method, meaning each teacher would receive the same amount of money, because the raise is 4% of the middle salary on the pay scale.
Every teacher would get a raise of $1,927. That would increase the starting salary for a Northampton public school teacher to more than $40,000. The highest teacher salary would be about $63,000.
During the public comment period, the Rev. Willie Justis complimented the school board on its decision to use the midpoint method to calculate teacher raises.
“We have not had really any complaints. … The teachers seem to think it’s fair. They understand it,” Lawrence said.
The midpoint method is also used to calculate raises for school administrators and staff like custodians and cafeteria workers, he said.
School board chair Maxine Rasmussen added that before the midpoint method was used, “The guy down here at the bottom, he got very little, next to … the person at the top.”
“The gap kept growing, and with using the midpoint, you don’t have that gap grow as much,” she said.
School staff will also receive a 4% raise. Any employee earning less than $10.80 per hour – the pay rate considered a living wage in Northampton, according to one consulting firm – will also get an extra 25 cents per hour.
The additional pay and health insurance contributions would cost a total of about $746,000.
Nearly 80% of the budget is for salaries and benefits.
The proposed budget includes about $37,000 for an additional social worker who would work part time, and $60,000 for another guidance counselor.
The Virginia General Assembly is proposing “unfunded mandates” regarding the number of guidance counselors required in public schools, Lawrence said.
Currently, Virginia school divisions must employ one guidance counselor for every 455 elementary school students, 370 middle school students, and 325 high school students.
Gov. Ralph Northam and the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate all propose one guidance counselor for every 375 elementary school students, 325 middle school students, and 300 high school students by 2021.
Northam’s two-year proposal includes one guidance counselor for every 250 students (in any grade) by 2022, but the Senate proposes one guidance counselor for every 300 students, and the House of Delegates proposes one guidance counselor for every 325 students.
Northampton schools have four guidance counselors, but they would need to add a fifth in most scenarios.
The Northampton school board will ask county supervisors to fund about $9.45 million of the school division’s proposed $22 million operating budget for FY 2021, around $292,000 more than supervisors provided last year.