School board budget calls for raises of 5% or more

By Haley Thomas, contributor

Harrisonburg teachers are in line to get a raise in the proposed budget the school board approved Tuesday and sent to the city council — the only question is how much.

The initial document that will go to the city council for its approval includes a 5% raise for teachers, although the Harrisonburg City Public Schools’ board members were united in a call for providing teachers with even more, if possible. 

Having spent the past three weeks sifting through a 144 page booklet detailing the city’s 2023-24 school budget, the school board approved a budget of more than $114.5 million at Tuesday’s business meeting —  a 7.47% increase from last year. 

The proposed budget requests $42.5 million from the city, a 13.42% increase from the city’s funding for the 2022-23 school year. 

“Knowing that there are many different stressors on our budget, such as inflation, salary increases, Rocktown [High School], new positions…We’re asking the city for much more funding than we’ve ever asked for before,” said Chief of Finance Tracy Shaver at last Tuesday’s budget meeting. 

Shaver said that although they’re asking the city for $5 million more this fiscal year than the city’s share in 2022-23, they tried to be as frugal as possible with this year’s budget request considering Rocktown High’s opening in the fall of 2024 will prompt another large request.

The budget proposal includes a 5% salary and wage increase for all staff members, but board members had hoped for more. 

If the city receives more state education funding, which Richards said is possible, he hopes to increase salaries by 7%. The problem, however, is that the state only funds salary increases for its defined standards of quality (SOQ) positions. SOQ positions are the minimum number of positions that a school district must have — teachers, counselors, etc. — based on student enrollment.

“We want to give raises to everyone, not just those positions identified in the state budget,” Richards said, adding that no school division in the state has SOQ positions alone. “We feel like all of our employees deserve that increase.”

Board member Kaylene Seigle said she understands that the proposed budget includes “mainly needs and less wants,” but she had hoped to see a 7% increase for staff members’ wages.

In response to Seigle’s concerns, Richards said he’d “rather promise low and deliver high.” He said he agreed with Seigle and hopes to raise staff members’ salaries by 7% if the city receives more funding from the state.

“I think we recognize that whatever we approve is provisional, because there are external forces that have control over what we get,” board member Andy Kohen said.

All board members except Seigle voted to pass the proposed budget to city council, but unanimously agreed that HCPS staff deserve a 7% salary increase.

“I’m happy to approve what we’ve been presented,” board member Kristen Loflin said. “I’m hopeful to see a whole lot more from the state.”

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