BCEA seeks 5% raise commitment for next three years

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By Tom Wilmoth

Over the next couple of months, representatives from the Bedford County Education Association hope to make their case for higher salaries for Bedford County teachers.

What's at stake, the BCEA claims, is the future of education in the county.

"There are people who are starting to look elsewhere," states Fred Glover, BCEA president, on the salaries being offered by Bedford County in relation to other school districts.

What the BCEA will be asking for is a commitment from the county for a 5 percent raise for teachers, for each of the next three years.

The group will attempt to make that case before the Bedford County Board of Supervisors and the Bedford County School Board. That presentation could begin as early as next week at a joint meeting of the school board and the supervisors on Nov. 29 at the Bedford Science and Technology Center at 7:30 p.m.

Possibly more important, however, is the group's hope to present its plea to the general public by appearing at various PTA meetings throughout the county.

"We want to see some type of commitment," Glover said. By doing so, he believes the county will be able to attract the best teachers ? and retain them.

Last year's teacher turnover rate has not yet been calculated by school officials, but the previous year's turnover was 13.9 percent. The 2004-2005 turnover rate was 11.9 percent and the rate was 15 percent in 2003-2004. Glover said as new teachers are brought in, sometimes they work out, sometimes they don't. "That's not stability," he said of the trend. "That's not good for getting kids to learn."

The BCEA states it wants to see a long-term commitment to attempting to do all the county can for its teachers.

"Is pay going to be the only issue that determines whether you leave or whether you stay? No. But as far as a determining factor for a lot of people, it does factor in," Glover said.

He said the county currently has the right people in place to get the job done, as far as educating students. The question, he said, is whether those teachers will be retained. And as teachers retire, who are replacing them.

Glover said too often elected officials stand up and say they want the best for students and teachers, but the increase in funding doesn't reflect that. "We're not seeing it, as far as a commitment to get us to a place where we can attract the best people," Glover said.

One example of this, the BCEA claims, is how raises are handled.

While a 3 percent raise was touted last year, the group claims that's not telling the entire story. According to Dina Linkenhoker, BCEA representative from Montvale Elementary, that figure included the normal step increase for teachers. She said that shouldn't be the case.

When a 3 percent increase is stated, she believes it should be on the salary for year's served, and not include the step increase. That, she said, represents a teacher's reward for service.

Linkenhoker said because of the way the raise was calculated, teachers at the high end of the scale received a lower increase, because step increases end after 30 years of service.

This format is not new, but teachers are discouraged by it, Glover added. "It's robbing from Peter to pay Paul," he said.

Glover said he received numerous emails about the raise, once paychecks began being received this year. "With most people, it's 'Where is my 3 percent raise?" he said of the questions.

Ryan Edwards, public relations coordinator with Bedford County Schools, said that has been the process for several years. He said the step increases account for a 1.6 percent raise and then the board votes on any additional raise as a cost-of-living increase. This year that amounted to 1.4 percent. Originally the board had planned a 5 percent total raise for teachers in this year's budget, but that was cut back to 3 percent after receiving budget figures from the county.

Glover said teachers are thankful to the citizens of the county. "The people recognize education as a very important issue," he said. "It's come to a point where we have to look at where we're going and how do we need to get to where we need to be."

Glover said there needs to be a long-term plan to raise county salaries to be competitive with surrounding divisions.

The BCEA report states that statewide, 73 divisions did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress while Bedford County was one of 59 divisions that did. The report notes that the system's drop out rate is 1.26 percent compared with Botetourt County at 1.36 percent, Appomattox at 1.5 percent, Campbell County at 1.82 percent, Pittsylvania at 1.84 percent, Lynchburg at 2.68 percent and Roanoke City at 3.69 percent.

The report notes that of the school system's graduates, 71 percent planned to attend college. While students are doing well, it states Bedford County salaries for new teachers fall $1,254 behind the local average and is ninth out of the 11 localities in the group's study. That difference raises to $1,386 for teachers with five years experience; $1,549 behind for teachers with 10 years experience; $2,617 behind the average for teachers with 15 years experience; and up to $3,367 behind the local average for teachers with 30 years experience.

"Our kids are still doing great. We need to keep them doing great. Everybody needs to make the commitment to excellence," Glover said.

Glover said the BCEA is sensitive to the other budget issues, including maintenance projects that need to be completed. But the BCEA says the budget should not be balanced "on the backs of teachers."

"We're not working with widgets or bolts. We're working with people. When you're working with people, you want the very best people," Glover said.