West Point Public Schools consider pay raises, increase funding for drama program

aluck@tidewaterreview.com

Three percent raises for teachers and increased funding for drama may be in the future for West Point Public Schools for the 2019-2020 school year.

Superintendent Laura Abel presented her preliminary recommended budget to the School Board at its Feb. 5 work session; School Board member Elliott Jenkins was absent.

Abel’s recommended budget includes a 3 percent raise for teachers as part of Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed 5 percent raise for teachers in his proposed state budget.

West Point Public Schools gave teachers a 2 percent raise last year, with the additional 3 percent the teachers would receive an overall 5 percent raise over a biennium (two years), according to Abel.

Programs

The recommended budget also includes increased funding for the drama, art, chorus, band and athletic programs and adds in-school suspension to the division’s schools, according to Abel.

Abel recommends the drama program receive an additional $8,000 and that chorus, band and visual arts split $2,000.

The drama program, under the direction of Beverly Hammond, has relied on occasional supplements from the division, ticket sales and fundraisers to pay the full cost of the program for years, according to Abel and West Point High School Principal Jonathan Hochman.

“We have not had a fund line item for drama,” Abel said. “I’ve had to give Mrs. Hammond an additional supplement in the spring at times due to expenses of choreographers, costumes and scripts — the essentials.”

Hochman said Hammond has “pinched pennies” and made amazing things happen with what she has.

The art, band and chorus programs have not had a funding increase in 10 years. The three programs share $6,000, according to Abel.

Abel also seeks $6,000 more for athletics due to the increased cost of game officials and uniforms.

The division’s enrollment in career and technical education programs on and off campus is expanding and requires more for supplies to increase enrollment capacity, according to director of innovation and technology integration David Daniel.

The recommended budget includes an additional $15,000 for student seats in out-of-district career and technical programs, as well as $5,000 for the increased demand for of materials for on-campus programs, according to Abel.

The out-of-district placement is funded at $40,000 for 2018-2019, and career and technical materials are funded as part of instructional materials and resources for the high school at $34,970, according to Abel.

Other assets

The division also hopes to start an alternative suspension program, or in-school suspension, where some students would stay at school for their suspension punishment, according to Director of Special Education and Student Services Larry Fraizer.

“When we give students out-of-school suspension, they are not counted as attending school, going against our attendance profile, which the state looks at,” Fraizer said. “Having an in-school suspension program would keep these students in school and more productive.”

School Board chairman Paul Diggs said he has suggested a program like this for years.

“Sending kids home without their parents is not a punishment,” Diggs said. “They get to do what they want and there is no real accountability for their actions by the division.”

The budget includes creating the program and hiring a part-time alternative suspension facilitator for $12,000, according to Abel.

Hochman said the high school does not have a high suspension rate, but having the program also would work for detention during school and reduce or get rid of Saturday morning detention.

The division is also looking at implementing a new online learning management system for students and teachers for $12,000 according to Abel and director of instruction Nate Leach.

“We have been looking at Canvas,” Leach said. “We currently use Google Classroom. This would be a step up and a three year contract.”

Staffing

Non-licensed staff, such as clerical, custodial and food management employees, may get higher starting salaries, according to Abel.

Non-licensed staff start at $10 an hour. Abel proposed an increase to $12 an hour.

“The town starts non-licensed, clerical staff at $11.75 an hour,” Abel said. “We could look at that option as well.”

The board unanimously (minus Jenkins) agreed they’d prefer to raise it to $12 an hour.

The division will also absorb a cost of $25,000 for a 10 percent increase in employee health insurance.

“That way our employees are unharmed with this increase and get a true raise,” Abel said.

Employee insurance currently costs the division $729,108, according to Abel.

Adding a part-time social worker for $35,000 and part-time special education teacher assistant for $20,000 is also part of Abel’s recommended budget.

The division has not had a social worker and currently has a social work intern, who Fraizer said has been very helpful.

Diggs said he thinks adding a part-time social worker would be “great” for the division.

There are 89 special education students in the district. The teaching assistant would likely be placed at the middle school, as there’s a group of rising sixth-grade special education students, according to Fraizer.

Total

The division is projected to receive $5,646,333 in state revenue, a $284,735 increase from last year, and $4,304,665 in local revenue, a $32,565 increase from last year’s budget.

Federal revenue is projected to stay the same at $330,672, and other revenue (grants, incentive programs) is projected to stay level at $463,675.

The projected total of Abel’s recommended budget comes to $10,745,345, a increase of $317,300 over the 2018-2019 budget.

The amounts are preliminary, as the General Assembly, School Board, Town Council and town manager will consider making changes to projected funding.

Abel will present her recommended budget again at the School Board’s Feb. 19 meeting and the joint School Board and Town Council meeting March 5.

Edit note: this story was updated and corrected to reflect the division currently pays $729,108 for employee insurance.

Luck can be reached at 757-291-2038, aluck@tidewaterreview.com or @ashleyrluck on Twitter

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