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W’md School Board locates funding to support step adjustments

After many months of deliberation, the Westmoreland Supervisors met on May 25 and adopted the 2012-2013 budget that included additional funding to support the county school division. In order to raise additional revenue to support the the county schools, a two-cent tax hike was included in the Supervisors’  May 25 action.

According to the School Board and Board of Supervisors discussion previously reported in these pages, the school division’s additional revenue would support a 5 percent increase in school employee pay. The adjustment would offset the recently imposed employee contribution to the state retirement system.

On May 25 Supervisor and former School Board member Rosemary Mahan expressed displeasure that additional revenue had not been allocated to support Westmoreland County’s schools. Mahan articulated concerns that teacher step adjustments would not occur due to the Supervisors’ unwillingness to fund the division at the appropriate level.

Mahan’s concerns were articulated by Westmoreland Education Association spokesperson Katie Kowalczyk during the Supervisors’ May 17 public hearing on the 2012-2013 budget proposal. 

Kowalczyk advised the Supervisors that the $569,005 increase in local revenue to support Westmoreland County schools was not enough to ensure retention of the division’s most experienced and valued teachers.

According to Kowalczk, the budget failed to deliver on past promises of teacher step adjustments that result in higher salaries reflective of actual  duration of service in the Westmoreland County schools.

Contemplating the loss of valued instructional personnel as the anticipated outcome, Kowalczk stated that compromising the quality of education for economic reasons is unfair to the children who must attend the county’s schools.

Teacher retention concerns were put to rest as quickly as June 4, when the Westmoreland County School Board convened a special work session and took the action the school administration said was needed to retain veteran teachers and ensure that progress would continue to occur.

During that special School Board meeting, Division Superintendent Rebecca Lowry addressed the members of that Board.

“The Westmoreland County Public Schools 2012-2013 budget was adopted as part of the local county budget on May 25th at a level below what the school board requested, representing a shortfall of $811,453.00,” Dr. Lowry said.

“The total amount of new funds over last year’s appropriation was $569,005.00. This amount came as a result of a two-cent real estate tax increase for the upcoming year. The state mandate for the allocation of a 5% increase for the employer’s share  were major factors contributing to the school’s receipt of the almost $1million less in requested funds.

“The major chunk of the school’s new funds will go to fund the VRS mandate - therefore making it essential that we reconfigure current proposed expenditures to correct salary scale steps which have remained stagnant for about four years. Since May 25th, we have worked diligently to make recommendations to the school board which will maintain the integrity of classroom instruction, support student achievement, and have a minimal effect on the overall efficiency of operations.”

The School Board endorsed the budget modifications proposed by Superintendent Lowry. The step adjustments in teacher pay achieve 50 percent of the initial goal. No scale adjustments had been made during the past four years, a consideration Lowry addressed during that Board’s June 4 deliberations.

The action described as Proposal B “would allow for a two step increase as opposed to four steps,” Dr. Lowry told the School Board members, additionally explaining that “the scale has been changed twice since 2007-2008. There have been two percentage increases (one 2% and another 1.5 %) in salary since 2007-2008. This proposal would also require a change in the school calendar.” The upcoming school year will be 10 days longer.

New employee positions will be funded but new transportation employees will be classified as part-time workers and will receive no benefits. Changes will be made to early retirement incentives and the possibility of employee furloughs will be “included in all contracts for the upcoming year in order to have a safety net,” Dr. Lowry told the county school board members.

 

Betsy Ficklin

 

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