Northampton School Board Contemplates Tough Budget Choice

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By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton schools are at risk of having to turn down more than $667,000 in state funding because the local match required is so high, the school division’s proposed fiscal year 2023 budget would reach a deficit of $1.4 million.

Northampton schools would have to ask the board of supervisors for local funding of more than $10.4 million for FY 2023, about 15.5% more than last year’s local funding request.

Northampton’s composite index is 0.47, meaning that for every dollar the state proposes spending on local public education, the county is expected to pay 47 cents, and the state pays 53 cents.

Therefore, of the $1.3 million in additional funding Virginia lawmakers proposed for Northampton’s educationally at-risk students, nearly half would be paid by the county.

Superintendent Eddie Lawrence explained it’s an “all or nothing” proposal; Northampton must accept or reject the entire funding package.

If the at-risk funding proposal is accepted, the $1.3 million would be spent as follows:

  • Full-time instructional assistants would be provided for kindergarten through eighth grade. The kindergarten’s current six instructional assistants would be upgraded from part-time to full-time; first and second grade would get 12 instructional assistants, or one per classroom; third through eighth grade would get one instructional assistant per grade level. The total cost would be about $840,000.
  • Two student success coaches would be employed for about $52,000 each; Occohannock and Kiptopeke elementary schools would share one and Northampton middle and high schools would share the other.
  • One-and-a-half social worker positions would be added for nearly $136,000, a total of three social workers or one per school building.
  • Two behavior specialist positions would be added for about $173,000, a total of three behavior specialists or one per school building.
  • One student support coordinator would be added for about $80,000.
  • The alternative education center would be restructured, adding a coordinator/teacher for $80,000 and a special education teacher for $72,000.

The additional resources will cost about $175,000 more than the proposed total funding, meaning some of the extras must be cut or covered by an alternative funding source.

During the public hearing, former school board member Nancy Proto commended the addition of social workers and behavior specialists.

However, special education teacher Katie Pittman preferred the additional instructional assistants and asserted that if teachers have assistance in the classroom, student behavior will improve and extra social workers and behavior specialists will not be needed.

Lawrence noted that all the positions listed had been requested by principals.

He observed that there is little else that could be cut from the budget, and several cost increases are unavoidable. For example, items like vehicle, building, and grounds materials, supplies, and services, as well as electricity and water, had to be budgeted 20% higher due to inflation.

That leaves the issue of salaries, and raises cannot be withheld if Northampton expects to qualify for the Cost of Competing Adjustment or COCA, state funding that traditionally has helped Virginia localities offer teachers higher salaries and compete in the labor market with Maryland and Washington, D.C.

The proposed budget includes a 5% salary increase for teachers and an extra $40 a month toward the cost of health insurance for eligible employees.

The 5% salary increase will be achieved through a 4% raise and a 1% step increase. 

The raise will be calculated by the midpoint method, meaning 4% will be added to the middle step on the salary scale, and every teacher will receive that same dollar amount.

With a raise of more than $2,000 each, the salary range for Northampton teachers will be about $45,000 to nearly $66,000.

But Lawrence said the unprecedented budget deficit places Northampton schools in “uncharted territory.”

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