School Board offered new strategy in addressing teacher pay and other budget issues

During Monday evening’s budget work session, the county’s two top officials offered a new strategy for Pulaski County Schools to address some budget issues such as teacher pay.

County Administrator Jonathan Sweet said multiple references had been made during this budget season to other school divisions.

“I want to hit some high spots, particularly with Montgomery County because that seems to be the jurisdiction of choice in comparing teacher salaries and – really – comparing our school divisions,” said Sweet.

Sweet asked how Montgomery County is able to pay teachers more?

Using next year’s projected enrollment of 2,320 students in grades K – 7 in Pulaski County, Sweet said if you applied that number of students to Montgomery County’s teacher-pupil ratio, Pulaski County would need 135 teachers.

“Currently we have 224 teachers,” Sweet said. “It looks like the School Board values teacher-to-pupil ratios over teacher pay.”

Saying it costs Pulaski County about $4.5 million more a year to enjoy lower teacher-pupil ratios, Sweet said through attrition the county could capture savings that could be re-invested back into student achievement, school safety and teacher raises.

Sweet said the whole purpose of this comparison is nothing more than to show “it’s not really comparing apples to apples.”

“We could take a look at this in many different ways and show so many different facts and figures. It’s not apples to apples,” he said.

Supervisors Chairman Andy McCready took the discussion further.

McCready said Montgomery County – for grades K – 7 – has a teacher-pupil ratio of 17.18 pupils per teacher.

“In Pulaski County, we’re 10.79 to a teacher. If we apply Montgomery County’s ratio in Pulaski County, we would see substantial savings, up to $4.5 million,” McCready said.

“I have every confidence Montgomery County teachers are no better than Pulaski County teachers,” McCready stated. “In fact, I have every confidence Pulaski County’s teachers are better.”

McCready said that, if Pulaski County’s School Board would adopt Montgomery County’s pupil-teacher ratio, he would like to make a suggestion to “our School Board friends.”

McCready said the supervisors had recently heard a very impassioned plea by School Board Chairman Tim Hurst on why supervisors should provide funding for teacher pay raises.

“He said we just want to get our teachers into the middle of the pack,” McCready recalled.

“If Pulaski County was to equal [Montgomery County’s] pupil-teacher ratio, I would like to suggest to the School Board that a 3 percent raise is insufficient for our outstanding teachers. I believe by implementing [a higher pupil-teacher ratio] we could easily afford a 10 percent raise – moving us out of the middle and closer to the top – if not the top,” McCready said.

He noted money would also be left to “put a new roof on Critzer and Snowville” elementary schools.

“I think our teachers deserve to be one of the highest-paid groups in all of the New River Valley, and there is a method by which you [School Board] can do it,” McCready offered.

McCready said the School Board is the only governing body that can change pupil-teacher ratios.

“I believe this issue is like all issues related to schools, it is directly in their [School Board] control. I ask the Pulaski County Education Association to get behind this and the School Board to make it happen. The only thing we’re waiting to see is do they have the intestinal fortitude to do it,” he said.