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Teachers push tax hike for higher pay

By MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

Pulaski County educators came out in full force Monday night to support a real estate tax increase they feel will retain and attract quality teachers by improving pay and coverage of increasing health insurance premiums.

However, a few county citizens questioned the impact a rate increase will have on senior citizens and one pointed out she doesn’t have anyone to tax to pay her skyrocketing health insurance costs.

Almost a dozen people spoke during a public hearing on a proposed tax hike which has been advertised at 10 cents, but County Administrator Pete Huber said will likely be less, if any at all. Prior to Monday night’s hearing, county staff presented those in attendance with three proposed budget scenarios: one without any increase at all and the other two with four- and six-cent tax increases.

Huber said a 10-cent rate hike was “taken off the table” due to the fact a 10-cent increase most likely will be needed to address the county’s middle school needs and it isn’t “feasible to consider two back-to-back 10-cent increases.”

As a result, Assistant Administrator Robert Hiss said he took the county budget and went through it “line by line by line” over a couple of weekends and cut more than $266,000 from it. He said the proposed 2013-14 fiscal year budget is less than the current fiscal year budget. In fact, it is more in line with the 2010-11 spending.

Hiss and Finance Director Diane Newby provided the audience with a rundown on the impacts to county capital improvements (emergency services vehicles, buses and other one-time expenses) and school needs under each of the three budgets they prepared (no increase and four- and six-cent increases).

The impact ranged from no capital improvements (CI) without any increase to $1.36 million in CI, including a fire tanker, five sheriff’s office vehicles, an ambulance and fairgrounds improvements, with a six-cent increase.

Without an increase, the impact to schools included fewer security cameras and about half the amount of funds requested to cover employee health insurance premium increases resulting from the Affordable Healthcare Act. While a six-cent increase would provide the full $1.3 million needed to cover insurance premiums, more security cameras and three new buses.

Before taking public comments on the tax rate, Massie District Supervisor Andy McCready pointed out that while many localities had tax increases last year, Pulaski County didn’t raise its rate despite being mandated by the state to increase its contribution to the Virginia Retirement System.

“That was something that was handled by this board without an increase,” he said. “We were able to do that when other localities weren’t.”

Now, he said, the county is facing a 15 percent increase in health insurance costs. He added that 2-3 percent of that increase is said to be the result of “Obamacare,” although he believes the figure is actually higher than that.

McCready went on to point out that the state sends less money to the localities each year to fund education.

“Every board member is concerned about the citizens’ ability to pay (a tax increase),” he said. “There’s never a good time to raise taxes, but, like it or not, Pulaski County is an employer and we have to comply” with mandates placed on it by the state and federal government.

Pulaski County Education Association President Steven Lavery and several county teachers expressed concern to the board about what they described as a mass exodus of quality teachers from the county school system as a result of better pay and benefits in other jurisdictions.

Lavery said he had come prepared to support the full 10-cent increase, saying it has been years since teachers received a “substantial raise” and that many teachers are making less now than they were last year.

High school teacher Scott Peterson said he keeps being told “maybe next year” teachers will receive a raise, but it never comes. He said his own children are getting ready to start school and he questions whether he should join others in sending them outside the county for their education because he is concerned about whether Pulaski County is dedicated to its schools.

Bill Benson said he understands tax increases are hard on people with limited incomes, but added, “every year I’ve gotten an increase it’s been eat up by insurance.”

Pulaski County High School Senior Katelyn Dobbins told the board she didn’t intend to speak during the hearing, but she decided to because “I want to defend my educators.” She said she has grown up in the county and loves the area, but described PCHS as a “revolving door” of teachers, particularly in the math department where Lavery said 24 teachers have left.

It was Genie Zunic who brought up the impact a tax increase would have on the elderly living on fixed income. She pointed out increases in gasoline, electric and food prices have already eaten into the income of the “aging population” so “they cannot afford to have their taxes increased.”

Zunic said if the county school board wants to cut its budget, its administration building “is the place to look.” She said it was located in a small house next to the library when she was in school and “now it takes a whole bank building.”

Tina Pratt said she’s sympathetic with the school system employees because “I’m in the same boat,” but she pointed out she doesn’t have anyone to tax to pay her family’s health insurance premiums which have increased 400 percent since 2010. She noted that her husband had to take a pay cut so he, too, is making less now than he was in 2010.

“The school system isn’t the only place this is happening,” said Pratt, adding that it is “a hard pill to swallow” for her to pay more real estate taxes to fund someone else’s insurance premium increases.

E.W. Harless agreed with the supervisors that there’s going to have to be a tax increase, but he accused them of putting the blame on the back of the school system.

Debbie Mohay chided the board of giving money to The Crooked Road instead of using it to maintain the schools. She said the teachers deserve a raise.

Mark Capps merely promised he would “send home” during their next election cycle any supervisor voting for a tax increase.

After several teachers and Zunic spoke, Ingles District Supervisor Ranny O’Dell asked teachers in the audience how many of them lived in two-income homes. Several raised their hands. He indicated the teachers have two incomes to live off of while the elderly population often does not.

But Benson and others questioned O’Dell’s reasoning, saying the teachers also have more mouths to feed and Benson said he has sent $100,000 to Virginia Tech to further educate his children.

“I think it all averages out in the end,” said Benson.

The supervisors have two more budget work sessions (April 1 and April 8) before voting on the tax rate April 8.

 

34 Responses to Teachers push tax hike for higher pay

  1. Jerry

    April 4, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    Let’s look at the big picture here and try to apply it to Pulaski county.

    So, first Southern Republicans make sure people are poor by refusing to tax progressively, refusing to raise the minimum wage, killing unions, fighting against single-payer and even Obamacare (to make sure people will be ill and stay ill), and not putting enough money into schools to ensure a quality education for all.

    Then, when northern Liberals very generously send federal money to help the poor people in the south, the Republicans say that the poor people should keep on paying into a regressive tax system that damages them because otherwise, poor people won’t have “a sense of agency and responsibility”!

    Pious sounding words cloak but cannot hide the avarice and cruelty inherent in Republican social practices.

  2. Beth from Dublin

    April 4, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    The old saw that you cannot solve a problem by throwing money at it obscures the real truth — solutions to these kinds of problems require lots of money spent on carefully designed programs that have been tested and proven to work. Spending money does not guarantee success. Denying social programs like education the money needed, will certainly prevent success.

    We know of many programs that improve educational success. The problem is that they require major interventions and so require large amounts of funding. Until we are willing to spend an equal amount or even more on educating the children of the poor as is spent on the children of the affluent, there is no solution. If we as a nation wanted to solve the problem — we could.

  3. Tom

    April 4, 2013 at 10:49 pm

    I really believe more money should go to education even if it means property taxes on the rich will have to rise. It is true that the family situation at home is still a bigger indicator of a child’s future than anything else. We need stronger public education to balance the opportunities between the super rich and all the rest of us.

    I will not deny the significant difficulties faced by children raised in lower income, single parent (98% of the time the mother) households. The stress that these families and the women that head them cope with is tremendous. Having said that, I was raised, as was my brother, by a single parent. We didn’t get the designer jeans, the cool shoes, the vaunted ski trips that other kids got. Sure, that hurt. But in lieu of these superficial trappings, what we did get was ballet lessons, karate lessons, piano lessons, flute lessons, trips to museums, many of which are free, trips to historical sites, many of which are free, and hours of quality public television followed by family discussion.

    Please note that life was not free from strife. But rather than spending hundreds on an iPod or iPhone, video game consoles and cable TV, I think parents would be wiser to save that money and use it to spend quality time on quality events that will raise their children’s educational and world understanding while forming lasting memories that will place them, perhaps ever so slightly, on par with their wealthier peers. Raised with little to spare, I’m working on my second master’s degree, and my brother went to a top military academy and possesses an MBA, illustrating how parents’ choices can be the greatest predictor of their children’s future.

  4. Judith from Christiansburg

    April 4, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    As the child of a single parent, who wanted to be the first in her family to go to college, but instead got pregnant, married, had 4 kids and then divorced a worsening alcoholic, I was always determined to go to college and not to raise my kids ‘poor’. With my mother’s nonstop encouragement. Mom managed to squeeze in a 4 year degree after her divorce, and worked for 2 decades to support us all on a tiny income.

    I had no music or dance lessons (I felt intensely jealous of girls who did though, I recall). But I felt ashamed when I asked for dance lessons and saw the distress on my Mom’s face as she said ‘Maybe later’. You do learn other skills from being a poor child.

    I put myself through college, working full-time or essentially full-time at various service jobs, and then got govt. loans to become a doctor…at the same time my Mother, now over 50 and with all her children out of the house, achieved her phD and started as an assistant college professor.

    Sadly, I never thought to ask my Mom where she got the idea that higher education was ‘the way out’ for her. And me. And my younger sister and brother, whom I helped through nursing school. But thank God she did. It certainly wasn’t her parents, they thought college was ‘foolish’.

    Its key that we keep higher education AFFORDABLE. And TELL poor kids what they can achieve with academics. Most want the best for themselves – with or without dance and violin (yes, my lucky kids take them- but its NOT a necessity).

  5. Scott

    April 4, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    This is what teachers have been saying for years. It is apparent who is coming to school prepared and who isn’t. It is not simply income. It is the time that income buys.Many children are essentially raising themselves and their siblings because their parents are working long hours just to get by. There are things we can do, but for the past 40 years, we’ve been unwilling to even consider doing them.

  6. David

    April 8, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Tax increases to cover employee health insurance premium increases resulting from the Affordable Healthcare Act?????

    Obama told us the Affordable Healtcare Act was going to lower the average families health insurance bill by $2500.00 per year, so way are premiums going up?

  7. Bo Bradberry

    April 11, 2013 at 6:13 am

    Facts: My Healthcare cost increases. Teacher’s and County employees’ Healthcare cost increases.

    Fix: County Supervisors raise our taxes to cover their employees’ cost increases.

    Result: We pay for both ours and their increases.

    Question: Just who is your supervisor supporting? The majority of citizens or only county employees?

    Answer is obvious and we need to remember this in future elections…

    • concerned

      April 19, 2013 at 10:21 am

      Slight difference Bo – teachers are paid through public funds other employees are paid through whatever company you work for. If you don’t like your compensation you can bargain for better wages. Who can teachers go to – the public which is what they are doing. Teachers in Pulaski have been treated poorly compared to surrounding school systems for close to a decade now. Teacher turnover is high and the applicant pool is dwindling. Pulaski schools get young new teachers who gain experience, get better at their craft and then move onto better opportunities. There are some really great teachers throughout the school system and many are getting worried about the future quality of education in their schools. Its a shame when I talk to some public school teachers in the county that are contemplating putting their own kids in private schools if this trend continues. Not taking care of your teachers for over a decade, leads to lower morale, low efficacy b/c they feel like they are not supported by adminstration, school board, and the community and higher turnover. This isn’t a good thing over a long period of time. Just keep an open mind when it comes to this debate. Teachers feel the pain of the economy just like everyone else and despite their lack of support by many groups go in and do their jobs everyday. I just hope they stay a little longer.

  8. Lisa

    April 26, 2013 at 8:14 am

    I agree with what Bo said above and it is even harder on people in the Town and County living on fixed incomes struggling to make ends meet.Who is going to give them and increase to pay their Medicare Healthcare cost increases and the the new Tax increases.I know many senior citizens that were going without their medicine before this Tax increase so now what do they do? The Teachers insurance and Healthcare covers their whole family.Must be nice.

    • concerned

      April 26, 2013 at 11:25 am

      Lisa – I don’t think you really have an idea on how much those teachers pay for their coverage and most can’t afford complete coverage and choose an 80% plan that they still pay a lot out of their own pockets for. Let’s be clear – the teachers health insurance is for the individual teacher and they also have to pay for most of that – any additional family members carried on the policy are paid for by the teacher. Do your homework. If you want to use sarcasm – like “it must be nice” – then try this one: It must be nice to work extremely hard, earn a professional degree in a field that it vital to our youths and community, take on part time jobs to help support their own family, and then go back to work tomorrow when the general public doesn’t support you with no real clue on what they do, are expected to do, and what they are blamed for. Yeah your right – it must be nice. – former teacher

      • Lisa

        April 26, 2013 at 9:14 pm

        I know plenty of teachers and how much they pay for their coverage.I also know how much money they make each year.None of the teachers I know of have to take on part time jobs to help support their own family.The ones I know all live in expensive houses and drive nice cars and have plenty of money to spend.Much more than people on fixed incomes like SS.

  9. the truth

    April 27, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    If the school system in Pulaski Co. did not pay their administrators such high salaries which are some of the highest in the New River Valley they could afford to pay teachers a little more as opposed to trying to put it on the backs of the community. It is correct that no “seasoned” educator wants to come to Pulaski Co. to teach, but you can bet there is a long line waiting for administrative positions to come open. There are principals and others in this school system that make close to or above six figures a year.. WOW.. REALLY… That is what the conversation should be about…

  10. concerned

    April 29, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    I agree with some of what the truth is saying – but there are no administrators making over 6 figures – pay scales can be found at http://www.pcva.us/employment-opportunities/salary-scales/
    How many administrators are there? How much do you lower their salaries and how much would that help with overall teaching salaries? Something does have to be done – as far as Lisa and her argument I think its bogus. If you want to talk about fixed incomes – before I left the teaching field in Pulaski I took home less money 4 consecutive years b/c of rising health care costs. I know of several teachers that work part time inside and outside of school related activities to help pay for health care costs – they coach, take up tickets at events, drivers ed, help staff summer school, not to mention the other side jobs like landscaping, painting, that I know several teachers do. Lisa also made a comment about medicare and Social Security – isn’t that tax supported, you act like medicare is coming from your own pocket. My final point is that teachers have no where else to turn. Even if the decision is not to increase rates to help teachers, teachers look like the bad guys b/c they asked. Who are they supposed to ask; they are public employees?