Monday, March 1, 2010

Feeling the sting

With the budget deliberations not yet finished in Richmond, local school divisions are deep into crunching numbers and getting ready for fewer teachers and other staff, and for larger classes. With most school divisions' budgets heavily weighted towards personnel - typically 75 to 80% (or more) goes to salaries and benefits - the cuts this year will mean paring down the employee rolls. Most school divisions are trying to do that in as gentle a way as possible, but when the knife cuts to the bone, there is bound to be pain.
One way to pare costs is to encourage experienced teachers to retire and leave positions vacant or replace them with "cheaper" new hires. But, how to do that? Some teachers enjoy their work and involvement with children and are not ready for retirement. Others need the paycheck. The cost of health insurance is a huge concern for almost everyone. Retiring before 30 years of VRS service means taking a hit (which grows when multiplied by the number of years under 30) on the pension. So, school divisions are offering financial incentives to help ease some of those very real fears.
Augusta County has a retirement bonus of $200 per year of creditable VRS service up to $6,000 for staff age 50 and up who retire between March 1 and June 30. They already pay $2,500 towards retiree health insurance (subject to certain stipulations) which helps to ease that concern. Still, there is doubt that $6,000 is enough to attract very many who were not already pretty close to a retirement decision. For anyone under 30 years of service, the hit on VRS benefits likely weighs heavier on the calculations than that one-time payout.
The Staunton Public Schools, which is probably going to close one elementary school, has a more generous retirement incentive. Ditto for Waynesboro - $300 per year of service, up to $9,000. Shenandoah County is considering one. The story is pretty much the same everywhere - get rid of teachers and other staff to save money. Roanoke City and Roanoke County are offering larger buyouts - the city's maxes out at $20,000 and the county's at $12,500.
Statewide, the respected budget analysts at the Virginia Education Association, estimate that the Senate budget will cost almost 16,000 jobs; the House budget about 24,000. These wouldn't be just teachers, but include everyone from cafeteria workers and custodians to assistant superintendents. With the budget likely to fall somewhere in between, job losses of somewhere around 20,000 are likely. I'm sure with less money the fine folks in the General Assembly will relax some mandates, perhaps suspend SOL tests for a couple years, and help in other ways. Do you believe in fairy tales?
Nobody expects the retirement incentive programs to reduce staffing by anywhere close to those numbers so teachers who are not on continuing contract (three years of satisfactory service in the same school division) are holding their collective breath and wondering if they will receive a reduction in force notice. We can probably expect many to be issued, followed by an night of fear, anger, and tears. Hopefully, some will be rehired if the number of retirements is higher than expected or the budget improves. So, you DO believe in fairly tales?
There is some lip service to class size and maintaining the quality of instruction, but - so there is a Puff the Magic Dragon? - have no doubt, classes will be larger (some to the point of chaos), students with special needs will have less support, many of our best and most experienced teachers will be gone, new teachers will be asked to teach subjects for which they are not prepared, and our children will ultimately pay the price for the bad economy and failures of vision in Richmond. First lesson... life isn't fair.

1 comment:

Mary said...

What? No Puff? Broken heart. Guess there's no Magic Bob either?