County Rally Calls for Education Funding

Educators are hoping to see a 3% pay hike this year.

by Gene Marrano

Consider it a call to arms – with the General Assembly poised to begin its new session next week, Roanoke County educators gathered at Northside High School last Sunday for a rally that was all about funding.

In short, teachers, administrators and other county school staffers are looking for “fair funding,” that would provide 3% raises and stop cuts that have led to larger class sizes.

“Roanoke County had to eliminate 150 positions,” noted Superintendent Dr. Lorraine Lange, “in the face of state budget cuts that meant the loss of $17 million for the county over the past two years.”

The immediate past president of the Roanoke County Education Association (RCEA), a teacher’s advocacy group, set the tone for last Sunday’s Rally for Fair Funding for Public Education. Oak Grove Elementary teacher Thom Ryder said it was all about sending a message “to let our General Assembly know that public education is a priority. [It’s] time for them to step up and support a 3% [pay increase].”

It’s been several years since teachers had a raise, due to lean county budgets and the loss of state money; judging by the “3%” signs in the audience of hundreds at Northside High School, it’s fair to say the idea of the General Assembly supporting such a hike this year would be very popular.

The current RCEA president, Northside teacher Tammy Wood, echoed Ryder in saying it was all about the message. State Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke) accepted an invitation to appear at the rally; 8th district special election candidate Ginger Mumpower (D) also showed up, while Republican opponent Greg Habeeb sent his regrets.

Mumpower supporters handed out literature at the door, alleging that their candidate was more supportive of a pay raise for teachers and other public education funding than was Habeeb, ostensibly based on some of his comments during the campaign.

“The time is past to give fair funding to public education,” said Wood, “[we want] three percent now.”  She urged attendees to become cyber-lobbyists as well, saying “legislators do pay attention to their e-mail.”

Wood also lamented what she said were the federal and state mandates for education that must be met (Adequate Yearly Progress, etc.) “with decreased levels of funding,” to help make the changes needed.   She talked about the lack of a salary increase for educators for the past two years and how that affects retirement pay.

Meanwhile $509 million in recently announced new revenue is not earmarked in any way for education, said Wood, with state employees also slated for a 3% increase in pay.  “Why are we overlooked?” she asked those in the audience.

Despite all of that she announced, to applause, that Virginia ranked in the top twenty for math scores nationally, and in the top ten for reading achievement levels. “We have all done more with less, but you can only make that work for so long.” Of the General Assembly session that begins next week, Wood added that “the future of public education is in their hands.”

Chuck Lionberger, president of the Roanoke County Council of PTA’s, said a lack of funding for education was a “national problem,” due to the sluggish economy. “[But we] are not asking for everything under the sun,” he noted. “Virginia is cutting its budget on the back of its students.”  Lionberger, also a public relations specialist for Roanoke County Schools, implored the General Assembly to “do what they know is right – properly fund public education.” Glenvar High School parent Lenora Downey took a short turn at the microphone. “I worry about what the future looks like [with the budget cuts] … we need the [state] funding for this.”

Dr. Lorraine Lange, superintendent for Roanoke County Schools, said “unprecedented cuts” that had deprived the school system of more than $17 million over the past two years resulted in staffing and program reductions that first cut into the fat, then the muscle — and now down to the bone.  Roanoke County closed three schools and eliminated 150 positions, resulting in more crowded classrooms for starters.  “[We made] hard choices in order to cut,” said Lange from the podium.  “We’re not asking for any more [from the General Assembly]. We just want to keep what we have.”

Roanoke County School Board chairman Mike Stovall (Vinton District) called the recent funding cuts “devastating” for the county. He drew the loudest applause when addressing an education issue that has gotten attention at many levels of government: “we’ve got to stop the unfunded mandates.”

Edwards capped off the rally by criticizing, albeit gently, positions that some Republicans, including Governor Bob McDonnell, have taken regarding budget cuts. He acknowledged that the loss of tax revenues has meant a “tough time” in Richmond during the past few sessions. He likes McDonnell, whom he called a friend, “but I just wonder about the math. We can’t keep eroding our future. Paying reasonable taxes is a necessary evil,” added Edwards, “revenues that enable the state and localities to invest in the basic infrastructure of society. [Without] a reasonable revenue stream we’re not going to have good teachers.”

Appealing to legislators during this year’s session to fully support public education funding is “really important,” said the long time state senator.  Democrats, according to Edwards, saved 12,000 education jobs and “over a half billion dollars” in the wake of budget cuts proposed by then-Governor Tim Kaine, a Democrat.

Edwards also endorsed Ginger Mumpower for the 8th District House seat being vacated by Morgan Griffith, now a member of Congress, saying there was “a world of difference,” regarding her position on public education funding when compared to Greg Habeeb’s. “Now it’s time to get that money back,” said Edwards. “It’s time we fully fund public education.”  Those in the rally audience at Northside High School couldn’t have agreed more.

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  1. I’m so sorry teachers but all one has to do is look at the EXPLOSION in spending for public education and what’s coming out of the systems and it’s clear public education is a total waste of money. For the most part, you class room teachers are not at fault, as such, but the liberal political views that have undermined the value system in this country ARE at fault. Unfortunately too, far too many of you tend to feel this liberal politically driven approach is appropriate. Maybe you are not responsible for it, but lets just call it what it is. Public schools are just places “parents” send their kids during the day while they go to where ever they want to and do whatever they want. Nope, in my world you get even LESS money. I expect nothing positive out of your efforts and feel compensation and operating budgets should be reduced accordingly.

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