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New administrators in proposed ’22 school budget

Isle of Wight County Schools’ proposed $69.7 million budget for the next school year includes new central office positions, among them two coordinators who will each be paid $75,000 a year.

School officials say the new positions are needed to meet Virginia’s standards of quality, which mandate the minimum number of employees public school divisions must hire in each department based on student population — and allocates state funding for those positions.

“We have been under that,” said Steven Kepnes, the division’s new executive director of budget and finance. “On one side, you might say well, that’s great, we’re doing it more efficiently. But where I’m concerned, being new as I am in what I’m doing, we will have to file a report that counts our people, and my concern is … we’re jeopardizing receiving our full funding.”

But former school board member Herb De Groft, the sole person to speak at a Feb. 25 public hearing on the division budget, urged current members to compare Isle of Wight’s central office salaries to those of other, larger Virginia school systems — and to take into account the roughly 240 fewer students the division is expecting this September compared to its pre-pandemic population.

Per an administrative pay scale the School Board adopted in 2018, the minimum salaries for some administrative positions were, in fact, set higher than comparable positions in much larger school systems, such as Norfolk that school year.

“Simply put, you all can get by easily with good cost control management at $67.3 million,” De Groft said. “I think you got ‘featherbedding’ in the central office.”

The term, which gained popularity in the early to mid 20th century, refers to employers who are required, either by a union or safety statute, to hire more employees than needed, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary.

According to Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton, the only central office department currently in excess of the minimum SOQ-required number of employees is Information Technology.

“Many of our schools don’t even need an AP (assistant principal) by the standards of quality but we all know we can’t run a school without them,” Thornton said. “In many other areas throughout the division — transportation, instruction, etc. — we fund way past the SOQs cause we have to … we all know that in the public’s eye, administrators, we always have too many of them. And, we don’t.”

The proposed source of funding for some of the new positions is a $2.1 million federal Coronavirus Response & Relief Supplemental grant the division plans to apply for in April, which will give Isle of Wight through 2023 to spend that money. The caveat is none of this money can be spent unless the division spends its remaining $529,000 in CARES Act money by June 30. According to Kepnes, the tentative plan is to spend the remaining CARES funds on new furniture for Windsor Elementary and Carrsville Elementary, Chromebook laptops for third-graders, an information technology employee and personal protective equipment.

Currently, the division is expecting to receive about $35.4 million from the state — an increase of over $900,000 despite the drop in student population — and plans to ask the county for level funding in the amount of $26.9 million.

Fearing the worst with regards to the economic impacts of the pandemic, IWCS had frozen all salaries in June 2020. Starting Jan. 1, the division gave all employees a salary increase, essentially putting teachers back on track with its 34-step pay scale. The proposed budget includes another commensurate salary increase in keeping with the scale.

The School Board plans to vote on the budget March 11. It is due to Isle of Wight County Administrator Randy Keaton by March 31 for consideration and funding by the county’s Board of Supervisors.