By Christina Amano Dolan Editor
Hanover County School Board and Board of Supervisors members discussed a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour for Hanover County Public Schools (HCPS) employees during a joint education committee meeting, which was originally scheduled for May 12 but rescheduled to June 3.
The discussion came after supervisors voted unanimously to approve the county budget for fiscal year (FY) 2023 on April 13 with the caveat that minimum wage in schools was addressed in the next joint education committee meeting.
The adopted budget makes several strides to address higher turnover rates and growing recruitment and retention challenges, including a merit increase of 5% and market-based salary adjustments. In addition, the budget includes a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour for county employees, but supervisors called for the same increase in the school division during the April hearing.
At the start of last week’s meeting, County Administrator John Budesky noted how the county is uniquely collaborative in its budget process, as county and school officials meet regularly throughout the year.
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“I am happy to say that our budget process is more highly successful than a number of counterparts because we can meet together and walk through issues,” Budesky said.
He said while they aim to treat both county and school employees as consistently as they can throughout the process, the “changing market has taken some of that consistency … out of [their] hands.”
There is currently no federal requirement for a $15 minimum wage, but the market is rapidly changing and competitors have offered even greater wages since the budget’s adoption, he said.
“Quite honestly, a $15 minimum wage is starting to look small compared to some other numbers that we’re seeing in the market,” he said.
He explained that on the county side, they identified only a small group of individuals that did not meet the $15 minimum wage threshold and required around $67,000 in adjustments, so it did not make sense to phase the adjustment over multiple years.
In addition, he and Gill noted how county and school employee classifications have crucial differences and that the school division has a larger number of contracted positions and overall staff to account for.
Gill said moving their lowest wage employees has been a priority for several years, but it will take more than two budget cycles to reach a $15 minimum wage.
“We’re all about solutions,” he said. “And so we do want to look at what it will take to get there, understanding that this probably is not going to be a one-year approach, just like it wasn’t a couple of budget cycles ago.”
Amanda Six, HCPS Director of Finance, presented an overview of what their current pay philosophy is, which is comprised of a uniform pay scale and a teacher salary scale.
The uniform pay scale has a minimum and maximum pay range and grade levels, with each job placed in a grade based on level of responsibility. When a job offer is given, each individual’s work history, education and experience is considered, which determines their position on the scale. At the time the presentation was made, around 1,015 individuals were on the uniform pay plan.
The teacher salary scale is comprised of steps ranging from zero to 42 that correlate with individual experience and offers additional compensation based on level of education. At the time staff developed the presentation, there were around 1,143 employees on the pay plan.
She highlighted the progress they have made in recent years in addressing compression and targeting job families for adjustments, including increasing the average custodian salary from $12.92 in FY2021 to $16.11 as of July 1, 2022. In addition, the lowest-paid school employee will receive $12 an hour — above the state-required $11 minimum wage rate.
To provide context, she presented four scenarios that would make the $15 minimum wage adjustment, with each scenario building upon the last and widening the scope of targeted employees.
In the first scenario, only the 283 contracted employees that would remain under $15 an hour on July 1 would receive a wage adjustment. This solution alone does not address compression, however, and would negate progress made over the last few cycles to address pay equity.
Scenario two included adjustments for any job family with an employee who falls under the $15 minimum. Each member of the job family would be evaluated and moved up their pro rata share.
Scenario three included all employees who fall on the uniform pay scale that would no longer have an adequate wage gap based on the duties, training or certifications required to meet their job’s responsibilities.
Scenario four applied a similar adjustment to the teacher salary scale, which would help address recent recruitment challenges. Six said HCPS has begun the past two academic years with full time teacher vacancies.
“And we really wanted to articulate that we think that adjusting teachers proportionately would help mitigate any impact on teacher morale and our ongoing recruitment and retention efforts,” Six said.
South Anna Supervisor Susan Dibble and Ashland Supervisor Faye Prichard called for the prioritization of scenarios one and two in order to aid the employees most in need.
“It’s the bottom of our pay scale that are struggling,” Dibble said. “And these people are struggling and making decisions on whether or not to buy food or new shoes for their kids.”
“I would implore you to embrace scenario one, work toward scenario two and do as much as you can,” Dibble said.
Steven Ikenberry, school board representative for the Cold Harbor District, expressed concerns about “what signal” the minimum wage increase would send to teachers who struggle financially themselves. He said from meeting with five schools in his district, he found that anywhere from 10% to 20% of teachers work second jobs.
Prichard said she believes scenario one and two are a good starting point and that teachers would understand.
Committee members agreed to work toward finding a balance between the two populations in upcoming discussions.
“At the end of the day… there’s never enough money for everything we want to take care of,” Budesky said. “There’s the amount that we have, and we need to prioritize that the best we can.”
He said they need to improve on setting budget priorities in advance to minimize any lack of clarity between school and county officials by the budget’s adoption.
“We appreciate the candor in this discussion, and in the months to come we will work toward interim solutions for longer-term problems,” he said.