Next year’s budget for the Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) is a work in progress, but Superintendent of Schools Dr. Cecil Snead has a list of priorities, and a raise for teachers is right at the top.
At recent school board meetings, Snead has outlined his budget plans. While emphasizing that much depends on the governor’s biennial budget, which is still in flux, he said he wants to bring teacher and staff salaries more in line with those of neighboring school divisions.
Currently, Orange County places near the bottom at all ranks of teacher pay in an eight-county area. For teachers with up to 18 years of experience, only Madison County pays less than Orange does. Even with a 3% raise funded by the state last year, OCPS didn’t gain any ground, because neighboring school divisions also increased teacher salaries.
During the Jan. 21 school board meeting, Snead said it is “unsustainable” to leave positions unfilled or partially filled and to rely on teachers willing to take on additional courses. Though paid to teach an additional class, teachers willing to do so are left with no planning period during their school day.
Yvonne Dawson, OCPS director of human resources, noted that schools across the state and nation are facing a teacher shortage—a factor Snead said he is keeping in mind as he budgets for raises that would help the division attract and retain teachers.
In addition to teacher raises, Snead announced a number of other budget priorities.
Under instruction and personnel, he is seeking an additional special education teacher, special education support for Locust Grove Middle School, a math specialist, an additional social worker, a second assistant elementary principal in Locust Grove, a mental health coordinator, school counselors working year-around at Orange County High School and stipends for staff members leading the eSports team and the Career and Technical Education student organizations.
Under data and operations, Snead’s priorities include an offsite digital backup for school division records and other materials, a chemical disposal plan and a replacement schedule for the division’s fleet of cars used for school business. He also recommended a GPS transportation package (see accompanying story) that would allow parents to know when their children’s school buses are due to arrive at their stop.
Based on the governor’s preliminary budget, Snead said OCPS is slated to receive nearly a million dollars more from the state in Fiscal Year 2021 than it did for the current year. The state’s share of funding in the current budget cycle is nearly $29 million. If the governor’s budget goes through as announced, the local schools would receive nearly $30 million.
He said localities across Virginia will have to fund the teacher raises that the state supported last year. In Orange County, the 3% raise translates to about $800,000.
Snead concluded his presentation by noting items outside the scope of the operating budget but very much on his radar, including the possibility of housing Career and Technical Education programs in the old “Blue Bell” building near the high school, a proposed addition to Gordon-Barbour Elementary School and the school division’s move toward solar energy. At the board’s meeting on Jan. 27, a contract was approved for the installation of solar panels on eight OCPS school buildings, including the Taylor Education Administration Complex and the Hornet Sports Center.