A closer look at what Virginia teachers make

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) Teacher pay has long been an issue across Virginia, making it difficult for some divisions to recruit teachers.

WDBJ7 takes a look at the highest and lowest paying schools in our hometowns, and shows what some are doing to level the playing field.

Walk inside Dr. H's classroom, and you're stepping inside her second living room.

Christine Hutchison, Math Teacher, said, “And I do use the whole space -- so it was probably hard to film me.”

Christine Hutchison teaches in Nelson County High School, which is home to the highest paid first-year teachers in our region. Hutchison came here after time in Lynchburg, as well as Bedford and Campbell Counties.

Kevin Walker, Nelson County High School Athletic Director, said, “Everything I looked at, it was a benefit for me to come here… When I was offered the job, there was about a 12,000 pay increase.”

The school's athletic director is in the same boat. Kevin Walker came from Appomattox County.

Jeff Comer, Nelson County Schools Superintendent, said, “Yes there is a teacher shortage but fortunately here in Nelson County we haven't been impacted like a lot of school divisions have.”

According to a survey from the Virginia Education Association, new teachers in Nelson County get paid $46 thousand dollars per year -- the ninth highest in the state. In the last four years, Comer has attracted a dozen teachers from school divisions to the west.

“Twelve teachers is a big percentage,” Comer said.

He says the Board of Supervisors committed significant money to make salaries competitive with nearby Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Plus, the division pays 6 to 8 thousand dollars more for new teachers than nearby schools in Amherst and Campbell Counties.

“We have not had trouble finding candidates,” said Comer.

John Keeler, Buena Vista City Public Schools Superintendent, said, “I would like to be like Nelson County.”

On the other side of the Blue Ridge, it's a different story in Buena Vista.

“I have probably the toughest job in Virginia,” said Keeler.

John Keeler is superintendent -- and has the difficult distinction of offering his teachers the lowest starting salary in the state. He says he tries to offset it by offering master’s degree pay supplements. The division also reimburses people for a portion of their education expenses, on top of a generous health package, Keeler said.

Pay in Buena Vista starts around $30 thousand. That's $10 thousand less than the state average, and about 16 thousand less than Nelson County.

When you look at the average salaries for all teachers, the gap is smaller. Nelson County says their average teacher makes about $54 thousand dollars, while the average Buena Vista teacher gets paid about $44,000. Some in Buena Vista say that makes it harder to get teachers in the door.

Keeler said, “If I can keep them here for three years usually I can hold onto them. So we just cross our fingers and hope.”

Keeler says 2/3 of his divison's budget comes from the state, and he needs a commitment from Richmond to up teacher pay.

“Virginia has got to get back on the funding level they were in 2009,” said Keeler.

Jim Livingston, VEA President, said, “The funding formula that we're using to fund K12 education in Virginia is not working.”

Livingston says that year, the state changed the funding formula and cut school spending by $1 billion dollars to balance the budget. He says schools had to pick up the tab to keep the same services.

Livingston said, “That wasn't just a one time reduction. Those expenses or those cuts year over year.”

Back in Buena Vista, Donna Frazier teaches business and computer classes.

Donna Frazier, Business and Information Technology Teacher, said, “I think there's a lot more that goes into the job of a teacher than just pay.”

The 28 year veteran says she's given the freedom to do what she wants in her classroom, though, she admits low pay can be tough and plenty of teachers pick up side jobs. Even so, this Buena Vista native can't imagine being anywhere else.

Frazier said, “This is my home. This is where I belong.”

The superintendent needs more teachers like Frazier. In the meantime, he's trying to budget a 2 percent raise next year, so that more teachers might consider finding their home in Buena Vista.

“For some divisions a 2% raise is nothing,” said Keeler. “But for us it is.”

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