Teachers stand in protest as Newport News Council approves 2020 budget

Newport News

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — As Newport News City Council voted to approve their 2020 budget, several teachers stood in the opposite direction to show their dissatisfaction. 

Things again became slightly heated in council chambers as several education advocates spoke in front of lawmakers Tuesday night, demanding the council fund the entirety of the budget approved in March by the Newport News School Board

The request was for the city to provide $113.3 million to the district — $2.4 million more than it gave the previous year. 

The nearly $900 million budget put forward by City Manager Cynthia Rohlf kept the general revenue contribution to schools at $110.9 million, the same as it did a year ago. 

After several public hearings, a final budget memo from Rohlf suggested filling the gap by using $2.4 million from the city’s “pay-as-you-go” project fund.

“Please vote against this budget that does not fully fund our schools. As taxpayers and homeowners in Newport News, our children deserve better,” said Mary Vause, a preschool teacher and Newport News Education Association member. She argued the one-time payment would simply be a “band-aid.”

In a 5-2 vote, council decided that was not the way to go. Councilman Marcellus Harris III and Councilman David Jenkins voted against the budget.

“Sitting in this seat feels like we still have the same issues,” Harris said prior to the vote. He was referring to the prior year’s budget process, which was also dominated by school funding. 

“Tonight, we had the chance to include more money for schools. We did not,” Jenkins said as he promised to keep fighting with teachers. 

As Mayor McKinley Price began to make his remarks a group of six NNEA members stood and turned away. 

“It’s sad to see teachers acting like this,” Price said, as he indicated something has to change next year. 

Price said the same thing last year about improving this year’s process. He has now proposed forming a committee to study school funding.

“We can’t set their priorities. We can only set outs. If they chose to spend their money on other things and not the teachers, that’s on them and not on us,” Price said at a budget public hearing last month.

Teachers continue to disagree with the statement. 

“That’s ridiculous cuz certain members of the council seem to think that they can say ‘oh give the teachers at 2% raise with this budget without any new money.’ Ok, a 2% raise is yearly reoccurring costs.You need to increase funding to make that happen,” Vause said.

The approved School Board budget includes:

  • Two new guidance counselors. 
  • A 2% salary increase for all employees. 
  • A compression adjustment to address compression in teacher salary steps.
  • An experience adjustment in certain support staff positions to address compression as a result of previous adjustments to starting pay.
  • Raise bus driver salary range by 3.5% to improve competitiveness in the regional market.
  • Adding  $3 million to employer share of health care premium.

An estimated $1.3 million of the budget will also be used to fund 15 new positions. 

The overall city budget includes no tax increases, and all fees remain the same besides an increase in the stormwater fee — which will cost households an average of $3 per year. 

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