Staunton superintendent calls for Va. to lift funding cap amid teacher shortage crisis
STAUNTON, Va. (WVIR) - The “Great Resignation” is impacting businesses all across the country, including Staunton City Schools.
The school district is dealing with a teacher shortage, and Superintendent Garett Smith says it is a crisis.
Smith says schools are understaffed, teachers are underpaid and overworked, and there’s no one to replace the teachers leaving the field.
“I really wish the public truly understood the impending crisis that’s coming with this teacher shortage,” Smith said.
Staunton City Schools has 17 vacancies, six of which are teaching positions.
“This is the first year I can remember in my career where I’ve seen so many cases of teachers leaving in the middle of the school year,” Smith said. “That used to be unheard of.”
To fill the holes, teachers are giving up planning periods, and administrators are stepping in to teach.
“It’s not sustainable. It just isn’t,” Smith said. “We’ve got to get our salaries back up. We’ve got to get our positions back that we had before the great recession, and we need to holding teachers in higher regard.”
Smith and Staunton City Schools Budget Director Brad Wegner are working on next year’s budget. They’re trying to absorb a spike in insurance and bump up pay for the schools lowest earners to $15.50 per hour. They also hope to give school staff a 5% raise.
“That doesn’t even keep up with 5.5% inflation,” Smith said.
“They’re slowly sinking under water,” Wegner added.
The two agree that one of the biggest answers to this issue lies with the commonwealth: “When you look at the overall wealth of Virginia, I think it’s ranked per capita basis as the 12th wealthiest state in the nation, and our teacher salaries rank in the thirties,” Wegner said.
Smith wants the cap on state funding for support staff that was put in place during the Great Recession lifted.
“Even in a small place like Staunton City Schools we lost 75-90 positions in 2009, and you know the funding just hasn’t been restored,” Smith said.
He believes it’s going to take a movement from the public to make it happen.
“As a result of this pandemic, one of the positive things that’s happened is families and communities realize how important teachers and schools are,” Smith said. “And if they knew how we were being wronged on funding, especially at the state level, that they would get behind us and support us. That’s the kind of pressure we need on legislators to enact real change. We need real change to take place now.”
The support staff cap is impacting every public school in the commonwealth.
If you’d like to see this lifted, you can contact your representative in the General Assembly, but you have a small window of time with budgets being finalized in less than a month.
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