Director of human resources Lorna Gerome presented the staff's suggestions to the board. Credit: Credit: Talia Wiener, Charlottesville Tomorrow

The Albemarle County School Board approved the evaluation of budgetary impacts from new teacher compensations strategies suggested in a June study completed by the Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. consulting firm.

County staff suggested three major changes and other improvements to the strategy for evaluating district teachers’ salaries.

“We started this work about nine months ago and have done extensive outreach in terms of getting perceptions and feedback on teacher compensation,” said Lorna Gerome, director of human resources for the county. “Staff has been reviewing the report and we’re prepared to make some recommendations.”

Albemarle county currently compares itself to a competitive market of 26 school divisions in surrounding counties and municipalities in Virginia. Staff echoes the study’s conclusions which suggest narrowing that field to a smaller group of high performing school districts, including Salem, Virginia Beach, and the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Goochland, Loudon, Roanoke, and York.

“This isn’t static,” Gerome said. “There are going to be different divisions that come in and out of this, but we will get the top divisions in the Niche [ranking service] market and these will be our benchmarks.”

School board member Kate Acuff supports the changes to the comparable market and feels it resonates with the interests of county teachers.

“The genesis for a lot of this work was a lot of letters from teachers asking that there be some recognition of this being a high performing school district,” said Acuff. “I think we have data that shows that these schools are the high performing schools and are a more understandable comparison group.”

Performance will be measured by Niche, an educational ranking and review website which pulls data from the US Department of Education, the National Center for Education Statistics, and online surveys of parents and students.

“In thinking about quality, we found a measure that looks at many things,” said Gerome. “It’s a very robust measure that looks at academics, culture and diversity, health and safety.”

The second suggested change was to normalize salary data based on cost of labor, instead of integrating cost of living because the consultant found that differences across districts was insignificant.

“This is a fairly common practice in compensation when you look at cost of labor instead of cost of living,” Gerome said. “This really quantifies the cost of the compensation in the various areas.”

The final change brought to the board was to implement a consistent increase to teacher pay scale, reflecting market adjustments when necessary.

Board member Stephen Koleszar was in favor of a consistent pay increase, but wanted a constant dollar increase over increases made in percentages.

“In our other compensation strategy, we talk about accelerating people to midpoint and then as you get beyond, you slow down a little bit,” said Koleszar. “If you do a constant percentage, you don’t get that effect. You get it to certain extent if it’s a constant dollars for steps.”

Other conclusions found that while Albemarle county is competitive for entry-level teachers, it falls short for more senior teachers with 15 or more years of experience. The district also lacks competitive compensation for teachers with advanced degrees.

In addition, special and incentive pay levels are an area in which the county can make significant improvement.

With approval from the Board, the staff will determine budgetary impacts of the compensation strategy changes and return to share their findings at the October 11 joint meeting with the Board of Supervisors.