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Albemarle County Public Schools is expected to suspend a 2.5% increase for staff compensation and the proposed $15 per hour minimum wage for support staff because of the economic blow caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The school division is expecting its revenue to drop from $209 million to nearly $194 million. A public hearing has been set for May 7 to discuss the new recommendations, and the School Board will meet on May 14 to vote on the final changes.

In a typical year, 150 to 180 new teachers are hired. Because of the revenue losses, the division is expected to make fewer hires during a time of an expected increase in student enrollment.

“I would describe that what we are facing [is not] so much a teacher shortage but rather the possibility that, for the first time, we will be hiring fewer teachers than the year before as a result of the loss of county and state revenue next year,” said Phil Giaramita, spokesperson of the county schools.

History and English teacher Rusty Carlock said he can absorb the potential changes because he makes a living wage. What’s troubling him is the impact this undoubtedly will have on support staff like bus drivers, teacher’s assistants and custodians.

“For a lot of them, they may not be making a living wage in Charlottesville. It’s really expensive, and it’s really difficult to make ends meet for a family where you’re making less than $15 an hour,” Carlock stressed.

When thinking of priorities, he hopes the support staff’s increase in wages would be restored prior to the teachers, Carlock said.

“A lot of their kids are students at our schools,” Carlock said. “If you’re living in poverty, that impacts your learning. I think raising those people’s wages has an impact on our students learning. For people who are working 40 hours a week to live in poverty and to have their children live in poverty is an issue of profound injustice.”

ACPS Revenue Losses

  • $2M loss in local revenues; $2M loss in state funds
  • $3.8M less than previous year from county allocation, rather than $6M projected local revenue increase
  • $9.8M negative swing
  • $2.5M in state funding, instead of a projected $7.2M increase

Ms. Howard, who did not want her full name used, makes $10.81 an hour serving food part-time at one of the division’s cafeteria and collects about $540 a month. She said a few of her coworkers had to leave the job because they’re not given enough hours, plus “the pay is horrible.”

Ms. Howard, whose son will be graduating from the division this spring, has supplemental income as a retiree and works another part-time job in addition to her gig at the school. Still, she said, that’s not enough.

“For other people, that is very hard,” Ms. Howard said. “I can imagine what they’re going through ― just to have to pay for your house, living expenses, taking care of a child and making car payments.”

The School Board needs to bump wages for support staff, Ms. Howard stressed.

“They’re getting things twisted. You cannot live off of $10 an hour here. As rich as this county is, [you’re going] to tell me that’s all you can afford to pay your employees an hour?” she said.

Giaramita said that, depending on how well the economy is doing in the near future, the School Board could reconsider its decision to bump wages and salaries for employees.

Among several priorities voiced in a survey issued by the division, 91% of students and parents said they were in favor of keeping staff employed.

World History teacher Vernon Liechti said that although he’s disappointed that he won’t get a raise because of the budget cuts, he’s grateful to have a job. Because many people are getting laid off, he said he appreciates the division is prioritizing keeping teachers like him employed.

“I am happy about that,” Liechti said.

But he’d like for teachers to be heard. He said he’s hoping the School Board will grant teachers collective bargaining. Prior to the pandemic, some teachers during a School Board meeting said they were not satisfied with the 2.5% salary increase.

“That’s what I’m going to be advocating for at the next School Board meeting,” Liechti said. “I believe if we really want things to improve, we need to be working together. … We need to be able to discuss budgets and priorities with the School Board.”

The changes recommended for next year would increase all average class sizes in the county schools by less than one full student, Giaramita wrote in an email. The average increase would be .4 students at the elementary schools and .6 percent students at the middle and high schools.

While the increase is negligible, Liechti said it’s still going to be more students, and he’s not thrilled. Challenges faced by teachers as they teach classes with a surplus of students include less time spent with those needing individual attention.

“It really does make things more challenging in the long run, and I think studies have shown that smaller classes have a big impact on student learning,” Liechti noted.

County teachers already had seen impact in class sizes in the 2008 recession. As a temporary measure to mitigate the impact of the economy, Carlock said he was asked to teach an additional course without a bump in salary. Once the recovery began, nothing changed. He’s still teaching that extra class.

He noted class size plays a factor in being able to support students with their individual needs, specifically those who need one-on-one attention.

“It makes a significant difference in the workload of a high school teacher teaching an additional class,” Carlock said. “Your energy across the day becomes more difficult.”