Higher teacher pay among requests during school budget hearing

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By Tom Wilmoth

The public got its first chance Thursday to speak officially to the Bedford County School Board about the 2008-2009 budget and one theme stood out: Pay the teachers.

"Retaining our teachers is key," noted Vanessa Gable, who has two students in the school system, on the need to pay teachers better in the county. As the Bedford County Education Association has already asked, Gable suggested a commitment by the school board to 5 percent raises for teachers each of the next three years.

She said the county must provide more to fund education needs. "Better funding for education is not a luxury, it's a necessity," she said.

Robert Holmes, president of the Jefferson Forest High School PTA, said he represented the parents of some 660 students in stating that county teachers need to be paid an equitable rate to adjoining school systems. "We're fighting as a group for our teachers," he said of parents from throughout the school system who've joined together to voice their concerns about teacher pay.

Linnis Harris, who asked for crowding issues in the schools to be addressed, told the board members that they could count on the support of the public. "When you get the budget back (from the county), try to stand firm and we'll stand behind you," she said, to a standing ovation from those gathered at the meeting.

The last to speak was Fred Glover, BCEA president, who said the request for the three-year commitment to the raise requested "is not a dream, it's a necessity."

"In order to do this, it takes commitment from all of us," he added.

A report released recently by the Department of Education states that the average teacher salary in Virginia for this year is $49,164 and is expected to rise to $50,633 this year. According to data from the National Education Association, Virginia ranks 28th nationally in average teacher salaries. According to the report Bedford County's average teacher salary for 2007 was $39,694. Surrounding districts included: Amherst County, $41,935; Appomattox County, $38,755; Botetourt County, $46,561; Campbell County, $41,324; Nelson County, $42,627; Pittsylvania County, $41,202; Roanoke County, $46,734; Lynchburg City, $44,702; Salem City, $51,211; and Roanoke City, $47,392.

Other requests were also made to the board during the public hearing on the budget.

Cynthia Field, the PTA president at Bedford Primary School, said a gymnasium needs to be added at the school, stating that it was the only school in the county that doesn't have one. "A new gym would offer more space and flexibility," she said.

She added that with the second graders from Bedford Elementary School slated to be moved over to the school, the need is even greater.

Avin Gable requested that the school system help fund new driving simulators for the students. He said as a paramedic/firefighter, he has worked numerous accidents involving teenagers. "If you save one life by giving them the skills they need, they (the simulators) would be more than paid for," he said.

Loama Perkins requested that new athletic fields be added at Staunton River High and Middle schools. "We've simply outgrown our area," Perkins said, adding that several soccer teams had nowhere to practice.

Requests also included the need for testing coordinators at the three high schools. Those positions were initially included in last year's budget, but were later eliminated.

The school board will be working on the budget over the next month, with plans to present the budget to the supervisors the end of February. A joint meeting with the supervisors to discuss the budget is set for March 6 and the supervisors will receive public comment on the entire county budget in April.