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Chesterfield School’s New Budget Calls For Higher Teacher Pay, More Counselors And ESL Teachers.

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School budget season is in full swing right now in Chesterfield County. On the table are requests for higher teacher pay and funding for more counselors, nurses and English as Second Language teachers. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Tonight, the Chesterfield school district will hold its last virtual town hall to breakdown next year’s operational budget. And, starting at 4 p.m., the district and the school board will meet for a few hours to comb through and discuss budget priorities. It’s a normal part of the budget season, albeit it’s virtual setting due to the ongoing pandemic.

At the heart of the discussion is Superintendent Merv Daugherty’s goal of trying to get the school board to pass his “needs-based” budget that totals almost $760 million. That amount is  $55 million more than last year’s approved budget. 

Daugherty says the bulk of that increase will go toward getting teacher pay in line with national averages and to hiring and retaining more teachers, who according to officials, leave the county for greater pay opportunities elsewhere.

In addition to his proposed budget, Daugherty says despite projected funding increases from the state and the county -- in forms of transfers and sales taxes -- the school district still faces a gap of almost $40 million. 

Part of that shortage is from projections of less federal funding and a loss of school revenue due to the pandemic. 

Daugherty says the state or county can fill that gap. In budget documents, he writes that the “State composite index shows [the] county can afford to increase local contribution to public education.”

Last month in a letter to Daugherty, County Administrator Joe Casey requested that he send a “balanced budget,” and not one that has “unrealistic expectations,” according to the Chesterfield Observer. Casey was referring to the previous year’s proposed budget that was $100 million larger than that year before. 

In the budget discussions that followed and in current talks, Daugherty has repeatedly stressed that state law requires the school system to submit a budget based on the school system’s needs, not one based on a dollar amount set by elected officials. 

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In this year’s proposed budget, Daugherty has laid out two priorities -- addressing teacher pay and meeting the needs of students and staff.

Monetarily, that breaks down to over $23 million to fix the inequities in teacher pay; over $1.9 million to give staff a two percent merit increase; and $4.5 million to hire 22 counselors and 44 ESL teachers. Additionally, Daugherty is also asking for over $1 million to hire 15 nurses. Currently, dwindling CARES relief funds are paying for the Nurses and for some ESL teachers. 

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The school board’s budget work session starts at 4 p.m. today. The discussion can be streamed on the school board’s webpage. The town hall will be broadcast tonight  starting at 6:30 p.m. on the district’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Read all the budget documents here

A public hearing on the school district’s budget will be held Feb. 9. That’s followed by a district work session  Feb. 17. The school board will vote on the proposed budget Feb. 25, where it will then head to the Board of Supervisors.