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2017-04-05 / Front Page

School Board, supervisors tussle over pay equity

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER

The School Board is moving forward with a plan to revamp the principals’ salary scale in the school system’s fiscal year 2018 budget, despite the Board of Supervisors’ warning that doing so will undermine the county’s efforts to address recruitment and retention issues in its public safety agencies.

School Board Chairman Javaid Siddiqi told the Board of Supervisors at a budget work session last Wednesday that the changes are necessary to make Chesterfield principals’ salaries competitive with those in neighboring Henrico County.

According to school officials, elementary school principals in Chesterfield earn $10,000 less annually on average than their similarly tenured counterparts in Henrico.

Chesterfield’s average middle school and high school principals earn about $12,000 less than those in Henrico.

“There are some [principals] who are not being paid what the market says they should be and we are losing people,” Siddiqi said.

It’s unclear how much the initiative will cost. The school system’s March 15 budget presentation to the Board of Supervisors didn’t include a dollar figure, but Superintendent James Lane’s budget proposal includes $958,900 for an item labeled “strategic salary adjustments – school level leadership.” Noting that the salary scale changes will give the average Chesterfield principal a $10,000 raise, Matoaca District Supervisor Steve Elswick asked school officials to consider phasing in the changes over a three-year period.

Giving principals such a salary boost in a single year, Elswick suggested, could lower employee morale at other departments in the county that are receiving more modest salary adjustments. It also undermines the broader goal of pay equity between the county government and the school system.

“I checked with our personnel department. We have never, ever given pay raises at one time at the size we’re talking about here,” said Elswick, who began his career with the county government as a firefighter in 1973. “I think a three-year phase-in is what we would do. We’ve done it before. But the unintended consequences of you doing this are going to hurt us really bad.”

Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dorothy Jaeckle concurred with Elswick’s suggestion.

“This isn’t a private corporation. You have to have a sense of what is going to be difficult for the public to swallow,” she said. The Board of Supervisors has made public safety recruitment and retention its top budgetary priority for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1. County Administrator Joe Casey’s proposed budget includes $670,000 to improve starting salaries and career development in the county police department and sheriff’s office.

Sheriff Karl Leonard said last month that his department has lost more than 100 full-time sworn deputies over the past four years – a 44 percent turnover rate he described as “alarming.”

“It’s expensive to put someone through the process and the academy and equip them,” Leonard added. “What that [turnover] represents is $7.5 to $8 million that we’ve invested in those deputies and we got little to no return on that investment.”

Col. Thierry Dupuis, the county’s police chief, has nearly 50 vacancies in his force of 535 officers. To help him fill those positions, Casey’s budget initially included funds to increase starting pay from $42,800 to $43,500 and make the police department more competitive with its regional peers.

But on the morning of March 15, county officials learned that Henrico County also is increasing starting salaries for its police department.

Now the county administrator’s budget proposes spending another $261,000 to increase starting salaries for police officers to $44,289, which would leave Chesterfield about $700 shy of Henrico’s starting pay.

“We have to work with the fire department and police that way. We try to phase it in so we don’t have huge salary increases,” Jaeckle said.

Elswick noted that even if the principals’ salaries are increased over a three-year period, “it’s still a heck of a raise.”

Chris Winslow, who represents the Clover Hill Magisterial District on the Board of Supervisors, asked Siddiqi and Lane if they had any “misgivings” about giving principals such large salary increases at a time when county employees are slated to receive much more modest raises.

Neither addressed the question directly. Siddiqi acknowledged the board’s concerns, but said all five School Board members are “strongly positioned” in favor of addressing the salary scale this year.

Lane called Casey last Wednesday night and confirmed the School Board’s intention to fund the initiative in its fiscal year 2018 budget. ¦

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