Monday, December 17, 2012

McDonnell Budget Amendments

First things first - I don’t think enough can be said regarding the heroism of our fallen colleagues at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown CT.  They brought honor to our profession.  I, for one, am not surprised by their devotion to the children.  Those with like hearts serve all across America.  I mourn for all who died in Newtown.

The Governor presented his budget amendments today. 

Before we get into the details, let me say that we may argue that a 2% raise is far too little for teachers, many of whom have not seen a raise in years.  VEA supports a 4% increase.  We live in the 8th wealthiest state but our teacher salary lags 12.5% behind the national average.  Questioning the amount of the raise is fair.  But, I do not think we should criticize the Governor for the method he employs to give the raise.  He provides the state share of the 2% raise, requiring localities to put up their share in a local match to access the state funding.

This approach has a long history.  Governor Robb discovered that the state is prohibited by the Constitution of Virginia from mandating teacher salary increases.  He sent the money, asking localities to give raises, and localities spent the funds on everything but teacher raises.  Governor Baliles first employed the required local match to raise teacher salaries, and this approach worked.  Using this approach, the locality must certify that they have given the desired raise to qualify for the state funds.  VEA has encouraged this approach since the Baliles era.  When the state supports teacher salary increases this is how it should be done.

Now to the details:

The Governor proposes diverting ½ cent of the 5 cents sales tax from the General Fund to transportation funding.  The General Fund is used to fund core services, such as education, while transportation has traditionally been funded with non-General Fund revenue.  The Governor said that this will amount to $500 million per year by 2018.  Education now receives about 30% of General Fund revenue, so this would be a $150 million annual loss to our schools by 2018.

The Governor alluded to the fact that the last time the state provided funding for a teacher salary increase was the state share of 3% in 2007.  He provides $58.7 million for the state share of a 2% salary increase in the 2014 for all SOQ funded instructional positions.  He provides $15 million of competitive incentive grants for Strategic Compensation (This is not merit pay.).

$277,000 is provided to fund expand utilization of  the effective schoolwide discipline system.

The Governor provides $708,000 for STEM recruitment incentive grants.  Qualifying teachers would get $5000 the first year and $1,000 in each successive year.

He provides $220,000 for a Governor’s Center for Excellence in teaching, residential summer professional development academies for exemplary teachers.

$4.9 million is provided to fund staffing standards for the blind and visually impaired.

$1.14 million is provided for a Reading Specialist in each elementary school scoring below 75% on the 3rd grade reading SOL reading test.

$210,000 is provided for a summer program on entrepreneurship for middle school students

The Governor cut $12,157,638 in funding for cost of competing adjustments for support positions in Northern Virginia.

$178,806 in additional funds is provided to support implementation of the Tuition Tax Credit/Voucher program which passed in the last session.

There is a change for the future funding methodology for school nurses.  This does not look like a good thing, but I am going to have to dig to get the details.

That is a quick-and-dirty overview of the budget actions proposed by the Governor.  I’ve tried to list what looks significant.  Stay tuned, for as the late, great Senator Hunter Andrews used to say, “The Governor proposes, but the General Assembly disposes.”


Friday, December 14, 2012

McDonnell Legislative Agenda: Where We Stand

The Governor held a press event yesterday to announce Part 1 of his “All Students K-12 Legislative Agenda.”  Before the conference, he and members of his staff briefed President Gruber and some VEA staff members on the legislative package.  We were handed the bill and offered a quick overview, but we were not allowed to keep copies.

With a strong cautionary note that “the Devil is in the details,” here is what I was able to ascertain before the bill was retrieved from my gaze.

The bill extends the probationary period for new teachers from 3 to 5 years.

The bill provides $59 million for the state’s share of a 2% salary increase for school employees. 
Localities will have to match with the local share to get the state money.  (The $59 million figure raises questions in my mind, as at the Senate Finance Committee retreat the staff indicated that a 2% increase would cost $75 million.)  The salary increase is contingent upon the passage of the bill.

We were told that direct aid to public education would not be subject to the across the board 4% reductions to state agency budgets.  We were warned that there would be some formula driven cuts (cuts caused by program enrollment/participation reductions).  We were told that there will be a net increase for PreK-12 funding.

References were made to a “Center for Excellence“ for professional development of teachers across the state.  We had suggested that the Governor take a look at what North Carolina is doing in this regard.  It was not clear what funds were being made available for this program.

References were made to funding for STEM and to continuing to examine the idea of the state-wide health insurance plan.

The Governor wants to proclaim 2013 as the “Year of the Teacher.”

The part of the bill that caught my attention addressed teacher dismissal.  The bill changes the definition of incompetence to include individuals who have received one or more unsatisfactory evaluations.  The current grievance procedure is drastically changed.   A hearing officer replaces the current three member panel (one chosen by the administration, one chosen by the grievant, and one neutral). 

The good news, in this regard, is that the Governor recognizes the need for due process in the dismissal procedure.  Our challenge is that the section of the bill which addresses due process will need substantive amendment.  We are now working with the Governor’s office in hopes of improving the bill before it is officially introduced.

Where do we stand?  First, we need to see the bill.  Second, we need to work with the Governor’s office to improve the draft before the session begins.  Finally, once we have an introduced bill in hand, the VEA Legislative Committee will direct our course of action.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

We Have a Budget!

The special session of the General Assembly convened Tuesday for the purpose of adopting a budget, work left undone by the regular session. But, it was not until today that a budget for the next biennium was finally adopted. Prior to yesterday's session both the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Finance Committees met to brief members of their respective chambers on the budget conference report.

The Governor's introduced budget increased direct aid for public education by $438.2 million - $342 million of this $438.2 million went to VRS. The conference report provides an additional $214.7 million in direct aid. In total, this budget provides $652.9 million more direct aid for public education than did the last biennial budget.

Click here to see the House briefing (Public Education begins on slide 7).
Click here to see the Senate briefing (Public Education begins on slide 8).
Click here to see Direct Aid for 2012-2013 by division.
Click here to see Direct Aid for 2013-2014 by division.

In addition to modest increases on direct aid, VEA's effort to prevent the diversion of sales tax revenue to transportation was successful.

Although the budget bill passed today, the special session in which this budget was adopted will not be over until the Governor offers his amendments and the reconvened or veto session for the special session has adjourned.

A detailed report of the budget will be provided following the reconvened session of the special session.

Robley Jones

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sign VEA's Online Petition!/DOE says your class size has not increased!

Make your voice heard. Sign our petition calling for an end to the attacks on public educators and greater support for school funding.

Did you see the Politifact today on class size? The DOE says “teacher student ratio’s have remained stable.” Do I need to show the bull on the toilet again?

I think there is too much evidence to the contrary to accept as fact Charles Pyles’ assertion: “Pyle said student-teacher ratios have remained stable.”

Even if we put the data set Pyle claims was the result of a VA DOE error, there is too much corroborating data to show that the number of teachers in Virginia has gone down and the number of students has increased.

First, there is a 9/19/2011 report from DOE to the Advisory Board on Teacher Education and Licensure which shows that the teacher supply has decreased from 100,908 in 2008-2009 to 98,792 in 2010-2011.

Second, on 7/4/2008 VRS reported to JLARC that there were 147,149 in the teacher group as of June 30, 2008. On 7/11/2011 VRS reported to JLARC that as of June 2011 there were 145,707 in the teacher group. The teacher group includes all school board employees, but this dip is indicative of a decrease in the number of teachers.

Third, CQ Press reports that Virginia showed the sharpest percentage drop of teachers in the nation. Between 2000 and 2010 there was a 16.7% drop according to this source.

The Annual Superintendents Report in 2005 says that 2005 3/31 Average Daily Membership (ADM) was 1,176,678 – 2012 3/31 ADM is 1,225,736.

How can you have fewer teachers and more students and not have larger classes?

Every teacher I encounter is upset about the increases in class size.

Are we seeing a bit of obfuscation? Do those in power not want the public to know that class sizes in Virginia are soaring?

Please use the facts above to keep turning up the heat!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Saturday Night Massacre - House Debate

I shared with you that many of our friends in the House stood with us on the pension debate on the last day of the session, March 10th.

Here is the list of those who voted with us:

Alexander, BaCote, Brink, Bulova, Carr, Crockett-Stark, Dance, Filler-Corn, Helsel, Herring, Hope, James, Joannou, Johnson, Keam, Kory, Lewis, Lopez, McClellan, McQuinn, Morrissey, Plum, Rush, Scott, J.M., Sickles, Spruill, Surovell, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Ware, O., Watts, Yost—34 (5 Republicans and 29 Democrats)

Here are the links to the VRS HB1130 Floor debate (If you can only listen to one - start with Part 4):

Part 1 This video shows Delegate S. Chris Jones of Suffolk introducing the conference report to the House.

Part 2 This video shows Delegate David Toscano of Charlottesville speaking against the report.

Part 3 This video shows Delegate Scott Surovell of Fairfax speaking against the report.

Part 4 This video shows Delegate Jennifer McClellan of Richmond speaking against the report.

Part 5 This video shows Delegate Kaye Kory of Fairfax speaking against the bill.

Part 6 This video shows Delegate S. Chris Jones of Suffolk making his closing remarks.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Who took a hit in the Saturday Night Massacre?

What is the consequence of the Saturday Night Massacre – the rushed passage of the conference report of SB 498, SB 497 and HB 1130? The House and Senate passed a 21 page bill just minutes after receiving it and with no fiscal impact statement for the bill. The debate, especially in the Senate, confirms that they did not know what they were voting on. The bottom line is that Virginia’s state and local employees will pay the price for the General Assembly’s 20-year record of underfunding VRS.

I will try to offer a quick and dirty analysis of who takes a hit and who does not.

First, there are no changes for those who are already retired.

Second, all employees who have fewer than 20 years of experience and who retire before age 65 will see their annual Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) delayed until age 65.

Current VRS Plan 1 members who are not vested (those having less than 5 years of service credit as of January 1, 2013) and Plan 2 member (individuals hired after July 1, 2010) will see three changes which will reduce their ultimate retirement benefits:

1. Average Final Compensation (AFC) will be calculated based on the average of their highest 5 years rather than the current 3 years (Plan 2 already uses 5 years).

2. The COLA will be capped at 3% rather than the current 5% (8% in Plan 2).

3. The multiplier in the retirement formula will drop from 1.70% to 1.65%.

All employees hired after January 1, 2014 will have a mandatory hybrid pension system. This system will have a defined benefit (DB) component with a 1% multiplier and a defined contribution (DC) component. The employee must pay 4% of salary toward the DB and 1% toward the DC. The employer will match up to 3.5% of employee contributions.

The Joint Legislative and Audit Commission’s actuarial analysis indicates that a 60-year-old teacher making the average teacher salary will receive $9,129 less in annual benefit if they make the minimum required contribution and $874 less if they make the maximum contribution. In short, future teachers will pay more to get less.

Finally, the conference report requires the employee to make the 5% employee contribution, but the employer must give off-setting raises. This may be phased-in 1% per year.

This is a quick and dirty analysis. A much more detailed analysis will follow. The impact of the bill on disability benefits remains unclear. We are going to be doing what none of the legislators did before the vote – reading and analyzing the bill.

Kudos to Delegate Johnny Joannou! He refused to sign the conference report, saying that he did not know enough about the bill. Unlike the others, he knew enough to know what he did not know.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

VRS Disaster/Sine Die

Upon leaving the GA yesterday, I thought consideration of the retirement legislation was going to be delayed until the special session; however, last night a general assembly staff member called me to tip me off to the fact that the Governor had called Senator Watkins and Delegate Jones to the mansion, and at his request the conference reports on SB 498 and HB 1130 were considered today.

I spent the morning working with the lobbyists from the Virginia Governmental Employees Association in a futile effort to line up votes to kill the bills.

The last day of the session dragged on. The remaining contentious issues were retirement and transportation. At 4 pm, there was still no released report on the retirement legislation. Apparently, the first report did not reflect what the House felt that they had agreed to and the bill was rewritten.

They wrote the bill on the fly the last day of the session.

This issue seems a little too important to handle in a last minute scramble!

I was able to attend the Senate briefing. Interestingly, the analysis of the bill included everything except any information regarding the impact of the legislation on future retirees. I asked several Senators to ask what the impact of the bill on future retirees would be, and Tommy Norment was the only one willing to ask the question.

In response to Norment’s question, VRS Director Bob Shultz said one thing that was helpful, "That's where the savings are - reducing the benefits of retirees." But he indicated that the reductions were "slight." Do you consider a $9,000 a year reduction slight?

Click here to see the Senate briefing documents.

I was able to speak before the House Democratic Caucus, and among other things, I asked them if future teachers caused the VRS current shortfall.

In the Senate HB 1130 passed on a 34-6 vote. Here are the few who stood by us:

Carrico, Deeds, Edwards, Garrett, Puckett and Puller.

Five were with us on SB 498:

Carrico, Deeds, Edwards, Puckett, and Puller.

I love Senator Janet Howell, but she served on the conference committee for this bill, and she said on the Senate floor that this bill had "no impact on current employees" and that is not only not true, it may have led some of her fellow Senators to vote based on a false understanding of the impact of these bills.

The Senate also passed SB 497 which requires local government employees to pay the 5%employee contribution and requires off-setting raises. This can be phased in one percent a year over 5 years.

Had Edd Houck still been in the Senate, he would have held his caucus together for us. Some of those who we worked the hardest to elect turned their backs on us today.

In the House Delegate Toscano did an excellent job of asking that the decision be delayed until the special session. Delegate Surovell made the point that this legislation makes workers pay for the irresponsibility of the General Assembly. Delegate McClellan protested that this complex bill was provided just minutes before the vote. Delegate Kory questioned voting in the "dead of the night" on such an important piece of legislation.

HB 1130 passed the House on a 60-34 vote. Here are the Delegates who voted with us:

Alexander, BaCote, Brink, Bulova, Carr, Crocket-Stark, Dance, Filler-Corn, Helsel, Herring, Hope, James, Joannou, Johnson, Keam, Kory, Lewis, Lopez, McClellan, McQuinn, Morrissey, Plum, Rush, Jim Scott, Sickles, Spruill, Surovell, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Onzlee Ware, Watts and Yost

The House adjourned Sine Die at 9:37 pm.

We are told that there will be an opportunity to address the structure of the Hybrid Plan in the Special Session.

Both chambers convened the special session after adjournment and will next meet on March 21.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Special Session/View the Debate on Term Contract (HB 576)

When the General Assembly adjourns tomorrow, they will leave town without addressing the budget, VRS, and transportation. Those three items will be taken up in a special session.

It is especially good for us that we will have more time to lobby the VRS legislation. Huge decisions which will have a great impact on public employees should not be made in the rush of the final days of the session. Both the House and Senate proposals will have a significant negative impact on the already modest pension benefits received by Virginia’s public employees. Both proposals have significant start up costs, no immediate impact on the unfunded liability, and no significant savings until far into the future. I am very glad that we will have more time to bring the light of truth to the debate.

I urge you to take the time to view yesterday's debate of HB 576 in the Senate.

Allow me to note that despite what Senator Obenshain said, VEA did not work with him on HB 576 or SB 438.

As you watch the video, you will see the "VEA brass" in the gallery. I was not with them, as I was working on the first floor fo the Capitol.

I encourage you to share this video with your colleagues.

Tomorrow is the last day of the regular session, but as the special session lies ahead, I'll be posting on this blog, but not daily. When the special session convenes, I'll resume daily postings.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Victory! HB 576 Re-referred to Committee!

The defeat of HB 576 gives VEA a major legislative victory in what can only be described as a very anti public education General Assembly session. We have work on the budget and VRS legislation that is yet to be done, but let’s reflect on the fact that the VEA was up against the Governor, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, and the Virginia School Boards Association and we won.

I am seeking the video of today’s debate, and I will post it as soon as I have it. I think you will especially enjoy the remarks of Senators Hanger and Puckett.

It is very important to note that beating this bill was a VEA team effort. Every member who emailed, called, donned black or attended a regional rally; VEA’s leadership; and the entire VEA staff all had a part in killing this bill.

Our legal staff, who did the research that showed that those who already held continuing contract had a property right of which they could not be legally deprived, gave us the ammunition to force a major rewrite of the bill to "grandfather" all who already had continuing contract.

VEA VP Meg Gruber’s remarks regarding the impact of the bill on Navy wives led to an amendment and greater scrutiny of the bill.

We used the teacher turnover, teacher demographic information and teacher supply information to our advantage. We also pointed out that none of our neighboring states were denying teachers fair dismissal procedures. We also pointed out that all state workers have a process more advantageous to the employee than what teachers now have. I could go on, but the fact is that we lobbied the bill.

Although the vote was 23-17, I really think there were 25 Senate heroes. Had Senators Norment and Watkins not taken a Valentine’s Day stroll leading to the defeat of SB 438, the Senate Companion to HB 576, SB 438 would have passed the House. But, there were 23 heroes today. We need to thank them all.

23 Senate Heroes

Senator George Barker, Senator Bill Carrico, Senator Chuck Colgan, Senator Creigh Deeds, Senator Adam Ebbin, Senator John Edwards, Senator Barbara Favola, Senator Emmet Hanger, Senator Mark Herring, Senator Janet Howell, Senator Mamie Locke, Senator Louis Lucas, Senator Dave Marsden, Senator Henry Marsh, Senator Donald McEachin, Senator John Miller, Senator Yvonne Miller, Senator Ralph Northam, Senator Chap Petersen, Senator Phillip Puckett, Senator Toddy Puller, Senator Dick Saslaw, and Senator Jill Vogel

While we are at it, we should thank the Delegates who voted against the bill. Although the bill passed the House, we got a stronger vote than anyone expected on February 13th, and that, too, was a factor in its ultimate demise.

43 House Heroes

Alexander, BaCote, Brink, Bulova, Carr, Crockett-Stark, Dance, Edmunds, Englin, Filler-Corn, Herring, Hope, Howell, A.T., Hugo, James, Johnson, Keam, Kilgore, Kory, Lewis, Lopez, McClellan, McQuinn, Miller, Morefield, Morrissey, O'Quinn, Orrock, Plum, Rush, Rust, Scott, J.M., Sickles, Spruill, Surovell, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Ware, O., Ware, R.L., Watts, Yost--43.

Delegate Bobby Orrock spoke effectively against the bill on the House side. Seems to me that Bobby gave members of his own party some cover.

This bill will be the subject of Senate Education and Health Committee deliberations between sessions. We will need to participate in those deliberations. Hopefully, the bill will be amended to include fair treatment of teachers and principals. If it does not – we will fight it once more.

Friends from both parties stood with us. The vote on this bill should be a major factor as we choose who we will support in the next House and Senate Elections.

But for now – this victory is sweet. I thank you for all you did, and I thank those legislators who stood with us when we really needed them. I urge you to find ways to thank each of them.

Press Release. Check out the press release that VEA distributed about the demise of HB 576.

News Media Coverage of Our Win. See stories published in the Virginian-Pilot, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post, Daily Press, Free Lance-Star, News Leader, Washington Times, Roanoke Times, and Associated Press.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

No Vote on HB 576/Conferees Meet Over Pension Bills

It is hard to believe that the Senate is yet to vote on HB 576, the “Fire the Teacher” bill. The Governor does not appear to have the votes, but they keep putting off what seems inevitable.

The General Assembly appears determined to reduce VRS retirement benefits and have school board employees pay the 5% employee contribution. A committee of conference has been named and must now come to agreement on the bills passed by the House and Senate.

The Senate approach is to create a hybrid plan—part defined-benefit and part defined-contribution—for future hires. The Senate would give school boards the option of requiring employees to pay the 5% employee contribution, but they want to require raises to offset that contribution.

The House approach is to keep the current pension structure, but it reduces benefits by cutting the cost of living adjustment and the manner in which average final compensation is calculated. For new hires, the multiplier would go from 1.7% to
1.6%. In addition, the House wants to require payment of the employee contribution without requiring any off-setting raises.

Our goal is the make the best of a bad situation by advising conferees to choose the least harmful aspects of each approach. For this reason, we are asking you to write the conferees working on the two bills and deliver the following message:

It is my understanding that you will be serving on the committee of conference for House Bill 1130 and Senate Bill 498. As you work to develop a compromise between the House and Senate approaches to VRS reform, please consider the effects these bills will have upon achieving the goals of the VRS: to attract high quality personnel, to retain high quality personnel and to allow employees who have served with dedication to retire in a timely manner with adequate benefits.

With these goals in mind, I ask that as you develop your conference report, please:

1. Preserve the defined benefit system as opposed to a hybrid plan,
2. Grandfather current employees,
3. Include a commitment to fund the Board Certified Rate (Establish Intent to Pay),
4. Maintain the current disability retirement for school employees, and
5. Include a requirement for a salary offset for increased employee contributions.

The outcome of your deliberations will be of great consequence, and I ask that you bring representatives of the organizations of affected groups of employees into the discussions as you weigh your options.

Please click here to send your message now.

If for some reason, this link to the letter does not work, please go to to send your letter.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Ground Hog Day/Pilot Says Lawmakers Not Fulfilling Obligation to Schools

This has been a miserable General Assembly for public education advocates. We’ve had so much thrown at us that some really bad bills got by when we were trying to fight the REALLY BAD bills.

Nothing has been worse than the Ground Hog Day nature of the Senate’s consideration of what we have come to call the “Fire the Teacher” bill. HB 576 allows experienced teachers to be fired without reason and without due process at the end of each three-year term contract. Every day your lobbyists get up, lobby against the bill in the morning, go to the Senate, and see the bill go by for the day.
When Senator Martin asked, once again, that the bill go by for the day, Senator Norment, the President pro tempore of the Senate, declared on the floor that the final vote will be taken tomorrow, seemingly impatient with the continued delay.

I’ve lost sleep over this one, and fear it has taken years off of my life!

In light of the fact that tomorrow is the day (I hope!), please call your Senator asking him/her to vote against HB 576. Click here for Senate phone numbers. Click her if you do not know who your Senator is.

The Virginian-Pilot recently ran an excellent editorial regarding the tuition tax credit/voucher bills that have passed in this General Assembly session. The budget impasse in the Senate may be our last chance to stop these bills from being implemented. The Senate Democrats could demand that this not be funded as one of their conditions for adopting a budget. Regardless, read for yourself!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Don't Mess With My VRS!

On Tuesday of this past week, the Virginia Pension Protection Coalition brought in three national level experts on pension policy. Monique Morressey of the Economic Policy Institute offered excellent testimony. I thought I would share it with you today. If you haven't done so, please go the and send a letter to your delegate and your senator on this issue. You'll see the hotlinks to the letters in the upper right hand portion of the page.

Monique Morrissey
Notes for Testimony before Virginia Senate Finance Committee
February 28, 2012

Statement opposing HB 1129 and SB 498

Draconian changes to the Virginia Retirement System proposed by both houses of the Virginia General Assembly would not only have a deleterious effect on the retirement security of public employees, but also greatly hinder the ability of school systems and other public employers to attract and retain skilled workers, eroding the quality of education and other public services. People don’t go into public service to get rich—salaries are around 20% below what workers with the same education earn in the private sector—but state and local government workers are at least assured of secure benefits.

Pensions, in particular, are probably the single most important recruitment and retention tool public employers have in their toolbox. Both the House and Senate bills, however, would scrap this essential and highly-cost-effective tool—both by gutting benefits and, in the case of the Senate bill, by siphoning off funds and destabilizing the system.

The House bill also amounts to a breach of trust, since benefit cuts would affect not just future workers going forward but also current employees who chose their careers based in part on the promise of a secure retirement. While many workers may have little choice but to remain on the job, especially in this economy, the cost savings achieved by this bait-and-switch would be short-lived because of the effect on recruitment going forward.

In contrast, the Senate bill appears to shield current workers from cuts since participation in the new plan would be voluntary and few workers would voluntarily choose a plan where they bear more of the cost and the risk. However, even if it were a good idea to sacrifice future workers to shield current ones, current workers would nonetheless be harmed because the hybrid would siphon workers and money out of the current system, making it harder to pay down the unfunded liability.

With the exception of the provision in the Senate bill requiring full payment of the actuarially required contribution, the proposed changes to the Virginia Retirement System are extreme and unnecessary. VRS benefits are modest by national standards, with an accrual rate of 1.7% and an average benefit of less than $19,000 in 2009, compared to the national average of 2.0% and $22,438, according to the Center for Retirement Research’s Public Plans database. Meanwhile, the funding ratio is well within the norm for a state pension system in the wake of the recent market downturn: with a funding ratio of 67% in 2010, VRS ranked 63rd out of 125 plans in the database—or slightly below the 77% average (partly due to a failure to pay the full actuarially required contribution).

The Senate bill would create a new hybrid retirement program with both defined contribution (DB) and defined benefit (DC) components. The DB component would have a 1.0% multiplier that generates a 30% replacement rate after 30 years of service and requires a 4% member contribution. The current multiplier is 1.7%, so this amounts to a drastic 41% benefit cut, not counting the fact that employees would also start contributing 4% into the system.

The DC component would not fill the gap, even for the few workers who contribute 5% and receive the maximum 3.5% employer match. Workers would also bear all of the financial and longevity risk and have their savings eroded through high fees (more on this below). Since most workers would not be able to afford a 9% total DB and DC contribution, the direct VRS cost to taxpayers would likely decline once short-term transition costs are factored in. But this unrealistically assumes workers would be willing to accept both below-market wages and bare-bones benefits. Rather, since public sector workers value pension benefits above the cost to employers, the difference would have to be more than made up by higher wages in order to maintain recruitment and retention, and total compensation costs would rise even as workers’ retirement security declined. In other words, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but the DB lunch is a better value than the DC lunch for both public employers and workers.

While the situation facing the VRS is challenging, it does not warrant the extreme measures being contemplated by the General Assembly. Taxpayers will see little benefit, yet the retirement security of public workers will be irrevocably harmed. So will the ability of Virginia public employers to attract and retain skilled workers—and the reputation of Virginia’s schools and other public services.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Home School Sports/Labor Day/Fire the Teacher Bill/Breaking through the Mumbo Jumbo

The last meeting of the Senate Committee on Education and Health this morning was eventful.

The good news is that they killed H.B. 947, the bill to allow home school students to participate in public school interscholastic programs. The vote was 7-8. Republican Senator Harry Blevins joined the 7 Democrats to defeat the bill.

HB 1063, Delegate Tata’s bill to repeal the King’s Dominion Act and give school boards control of the calendar, failed on a 6-9 vote.

The full Senate passed by HB576, the fire the teacher for no reason and with no due process bill, once again. This is torture. The word is that the vote will be on Monday. Please keep the calls and emails coming to Senators.

Talking about school funding in this legislative session has been difficult. When we talk about the cuts to school funding, the response is, “How can you talk about cuts, when the Governor ,the House Budget, and the Senate Finance Committee budget proposals add money for schools?” Well, the proposals don't begin to make up for all of the cuts since 2009. There isn’t much difference between what the House and Senate are proposing.

A concrete way to look at the impact for your school division is to check out this chart. It will take a little while to load onto your computer.

Click on first item – “Budget highlights.” Look for the House and Senate tabs. You’ll have to have Excel to read the chart.

As you can see, there are winners and losers. Let’s look at the difference between the funding we had in 2008-2009 and what is proposed by the House. Fredericksburg actually gains 27%, while Lexington loses 27.81%. Statewide the amount in the House budget is 9.71% less – a loss of $511 per pupil. So the small restoration of funds in the House budget falls far short of taking us back to where we were four years ago.

How can you use this? How about if a Lexington teacher wrote a letter to the editor saying something like this:

I keep hearing members of the Virginia House of Delegates crowing about how much they are doing for our public schools. Well, I’ve checked it out, and the House budget provides 27.81% less in state funding for our schools in Lexington that was provided in the 2008-2009 school year.

Our students are suffering. Classes are larger. Course offerings have been reduced, and text books are outdated.

We need some straight talk about investing in the future of our children by providing them with an education of high quality. What we don’t need is less-is-more mumbo-jumbo from our state legislators.

Check out the numbers for your school division. I’m sure you can write a better letter than I.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Term Contract Bill/Cuts to VRS Benefits Save Nothing!

The term contract bill went by for the day once again. It appears that the Governor is having a very difficult time getting the 21 votes that he needs. Please keep the calls to Senators coming.

We are in a very difficult battle to protect the pension benefits of current and future teachers. Working with our Virginia Pension Protection Coalition partners, we brought in three pension experts of national stature to inform the debate. We did get some coverage in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

We thank Ilana Bovie of the National Institute on Retirement Security, Monique Morrissey of the Economic Policy Institute, and David Madland of the Center for American Progress for working with us to try to bring the light of truth to the retirement debate.

Senator Watikins’ acknowledgement that the hybrid plan will not save money sure begs the question: Why are we doing this?

Please read to the end of the article.

I revised the letter to the Senators in keeping with new information we received Monday from VRS detailing the degree to which the Senate proposal will reduce the retirement benefits of future teachers. To make a complicated issue just a bit more complicated, the Senate rolled HB 1129 into HB 1130 when they adopted the Senate substitute. So, yesterday, we were telling you to oppose HB 1129. HB 1129 no longer exists – please work to oppose HB 1130. Click here to send your letter to your Senator.

The letter to Delegates, urging their opposition to the House substitute for SB 498 is hot off the press. Please click here to send your letter to your Delegate.

Doris Crouse-Mays, AFL-CIO President; Dr. Kitty Boitnott, VEA President, and Mike Mohler, Virginia Professional Firefighters President lobbied as a team today to resist the cuts in VRS benefits. Kudos to these leaders for showing solidarity!

I've been trying to explain the prevailing philosophy in the General Assembly this year. A recent quip from commedian Andy Borowitz sums it up, "“I support the rights of the unborn child until it is born and wants an education."

FYI, we now have over 17,000 cyberlobbyists!!!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Fight the Term Contract Bill/Protect Your Pension!

The tortuous wait on the fate of HB 576, the fire the teacher for no reason without due process bill, continues. The Senate passed the bill by for the day once again. This means the Governor does not have the votes, and we know that he is putting all the pressure he can on the wayward members of his own party. It is VEA against the world on this bill, and we need you to keep the calls and emails going to your Senator urging opposition to HB 576.

You can find your Senator’s phone number by clicking here.

If you do not know who your Senator is, click here.

In addition, we are in an uphill battle to keep retirement benefits for current teachers from being reduced by HB 1129, and from keeping future teachers seeing their retirement benefits reduced by SB 498.

Click here to send a letter regarding HB 1129.

Click here to send a letter regarding SB 498.

This is the most anti-teacher and anti-public school legislative session in my memory. We are going to have to all work on devising plans to fight back in the months and years ahead. We may have lessons to learn from those who recently stood up for reproductive rights in the last few weeks. We are at such a disadvantage because our members are not only working when the session is in – it is almost impossible for teachers to get leave when local budgets are so tight. What do we need to do to bring a large enough group to a Richmond rally to have an impact?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Urge Senate Opposition to HB 576 and HB 1129/Roanoke Rally Information

The Senate passed by HB 576, the teacher contract bill, today. As the budget will be presented tomorrow, this may delay the final vote until at least Wednesday. Please continue calls and emails urging your Senator to vote against HB 576.

The Senate Finance Committee will take up HB 1129 tomorrow morning. This bill will reduce future retirement benefits by cutting the formula from 1.7% to 1.6%, capping the COLA at 3 rather than 5 years, calculating the final average salary calculation based on the highest 5 years rather than 3, and withholding the COLA from early retirees.

Here are talking points:

HB1129 punishes current employees by reducing the estimated pension benefits. Under the provisions of this bill, a retiree ten years into retirement will receive a benefit approximately 10% below current plan benefits. This percentage increases with time.

• There is no requirement that any estimated savings in HB1129 be used to offset the unfunded liability.

• All efforts in the GA are aimed at punishing employees for the lack of payments made by the GA, and do little to help the unfunded liability.

• In 2010, plan 2 was supposed to correct the deficiencies in VRS. We are back 2 years later because they did not fix the problems, and we will be back every 2 years until the GA stops underfunding VRS.

• Punishing employees by reducing what modest benefits employees now receive is not the way to fix VRS. VRS can only be fixed by the GA living up to its responsibilities.

• Virginia pays less than half of the national average toward the pension costs of employees, as a percentage of the state budget.

• The General Assembly has failed to fund the VRS teacher fund at the rate recommended by the VRS Board 18 of the past 21 years.

• Modifying the defined benefit retirement plans will likely diminish plan’s effectiveness in recruitment and retention. Any additional benefit reductions without offsetting salary or benefit increases will make our school divisions’ total compensation packages further out of the competitive range for prospective new hires.
Please click here to write your senator urging opposition to HB 1129.

Click here to access an Pension Alert flier to share with your colleagues.

In previous post, I provided information regarding the March 3 rallies in Virginia Beach and Charlottesville. Here is the information about a third one in Roanoke:

Wake Up Call for Public Education
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
(1 Block behind the Higher Education Center: Center & Henry Street)
Roanoke, Virginia
March 3, Noon

Friday, February 24, 2012

HB 576/RTD Cattle Excrement/Response and Rally At the Beach

The following editorial ran in today’s Richmond Times Dispatch. It made it hard to enjoy my coffee and Cheerios this morning.

Education: Primary concerns (RTD Editorial)

Public school teachers across Virginia wore black last week to protest what they say is an attack on public education from Richmond. But there is scant evidence for the outlandish claim, which is based on faulty arguments about money and tenure.
"Money is not being invested in public education," one VEA rep told a reporter the other day. Let's hope she's not a math teacher. Gov. Bob McDonnell's budget would increase spending on K-12 education by nearly a half-billion dollars. A House money committee has proposed adding $136 million on top of that; the Senate would raise the amount by $165 million.

If teachers want to argue the state should be spending even more, fine. There's a reasonable discussion to be had about that. But to suggest the state is continuing to slash education funding is simply wrong.

Skeptics of McDonnell's plan grumble that much of his K-12 spending increase would be used for pensions rather than classroom instruction. Yet at the same time, teachers are complaining changes to the Virginia Retirement System could make them pay more into the system, leaving them with less take-home pay. But if the latter complaint is valid then the former is not. Contributions to pensions are either a legitimate metric of state support for education or they aren't.

Educators also are upset over McDonnell's proposal — now sidelined — to replace continuing contracts with periodic teacher evaluations, to make it easier for school systems to let bad teachers go. The Virginia Education Association calls this a threat to teachers' job security; some instructors also evidently consider it a sign of disrespect. This must sound extremely odd to many Virginians who work in the private sector, where few believe an employee should keep his job no matter how poorly he does it. That a significant number of teachers bristle at the idea of having their performance evaluated may be an indication an evaluation system is long overdue.

The demonstration of solidarity on Black Friday did not impress Del. Dickie Bell, sponsor of the teacher-evaluation legislation. He scoffed at the VEA's "grade-school antics" and suggested that "play[ing] dress-up" was not an approach calculated to make teachers look like the professionals they claim to be. Combined with the aggrieved rhetoric about "attacks," it also conveys an unattractive undercurrent of entitlement that we hope does not carry over into the classroom.

President Boitnott’s Response

With regard to the February 24th editorial on teachers wearing black last week, I am sorry to see that the RTD has chosen to adopt the same air of disrespect, disdain and disregard for Virginia’s hard working teachers that our legislators have recently displayed. When you don’t care for the facts, I suppose the next best tactic is to simply mock those with whom you don’t agree.

Thousands of teachers and supporters wore black on VEA-designated “Black Friday” because they know that support for schools from officeholders is declining, while disrespect for the work they do is growing.

It is only partly about the money. It is disingenuous on the part of the editorial board to only call attention to this Governor’s K-12 budget while ignoring the fact that SOQ (Standards of Quality) funding for K-12 schools has been reduced by $1.4 billion, and that permanent changes in the formula have undercut teachers’ ability to do their job. The state’s per-pupil support for public education was at $5,277 in 2009. The governor’s budget would bring it to only $4,730 by 2014. That’s a 12% cut.

Class sizes in Virginia, once very low, now rank us 41st in the nation. This is not the level of support needed to prepare students for a competitive economy.

More than the money issues, however, our teachers and support professionals are upset by the general tone of disrespect that is coming out of Richmond’s legislators and now has been piled upon by the Richmond Times Dispatch editorial board.

Teachers really don’t ask for much, and most of them expect even less. They have, in many cases, dedicated half of their lives to children other than their own because they had a calling and felt a need to make a difference. Most of them struggle to make ends meet, but they never expected to “get rich” doing what they chose to do.

What has shocked and disappointed them, however, is they have now been labeled by some politicians as “greedy, entitled, and lazy.” The last straw was the most recent attack on continuing contract, which is not tenure. Teachers in Virginia do not have tenure and never have. The suggestion that teachers have lifetime jobs with “irrevocable lifetime security” is bogus. This needless and unwarranted attack on their professionalism and dedication to their chosen profession is simply the last straw.

We’ll wear black every Friday if it gets people’s attention and causes the citizen of Virginia to take note of what is happening to our students and those who work in schools.

So, mock if you will, but unlike this editorial board, we know what the real issues are.

Dr. Kitty J. Boitnott
President, Virginia Education Association

The final vote on the teacher contract bill, HB 576, should be early this week. Please call your senator and urge them to vote against this bill which will deny future teachers of a fair dismissal process. Click here to get the senator’s phone numbers.

Yesterday, I provided information regarding the March 3rd rally in Charlottesville. Here is the information regarding the rally on the same day in Virginia Beach. I hope those of you east of Richmond will make your best effort to attend.

VEA’s Rally to Restore Public Education Funding
Mount Trashmore
310 Edwin Drive, Virginia Beach 23452
10:30 a.m.
For more information call the VBEA Office at (757) 486-0202, or email

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Last Chance to Kill HB 576, Who got Raises?, A Rally Near You?

House Bill 576, the “Donald Trump treatment” for Virginia’s teachers bill, was reported by the Senate Education and Health Committee today on an 8-7 straight party-line vote. This bill allows our experienced teachers in the future to be fired without reason and without due process. Please click here to write your Senator now on this bill, as it should go to the Senate floor tomorrow for first reading. The final vote should be on Tuesday.

Who’s getting raises in the House and Senate proposals?


College and University Employees (Amount determined by the institution)

State Employees (2% on 7/10/13)

Constitutional Officers (2%) - treasurers, sheriffs, attorneys for the Commonwealth, clerks of the courts, commissioners of the revenue

Members of the General Assembly - Same as state employees starting in 2016

Teachers - NOT


College and University Employees (2% on June 2013)

State Employees (2% on June 2013)

State Supported Locals (2% on June 2023)

Teachers - NOT

This failure to put funding into the teacher salary incentive fund is inexcusable. Virginia has fallen $7,083 behind the national average teacher salary. We are the seventh wealthiest state in the union. The only times that teacher salaries have risen in Virginia when compared to those in other states has been when the General Assembly, often with Executive Leadership, put funds into the teacher salary incentive fund. This was last done by Governor Kaine in 2008. We need the General Assembly’s leadership on this issue.

A number of regional events are being planned to protest our state’s lack of support for education. I will be trying to provide information in hope that you will try to attend.

Charlottesville Wake for Public Education

After 142 years, Public Education is being destroyed by lack of funding, unfunded mandates, high stakes testing, an underfunded retirement system, and loss of continuing contracts. Left to mourn will be over-crowded classrooms, forgotten students, demoralized educators, and undervalued support personnel.
A Public Wake will be held at
Noon on March 3, 2012 at the
Free Speech Monument in Charlottesville, Virginia.
All are welcome to attend.
Sponsored by the Blue Ridge UniServ (434) 823-4470

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Don't Let Them Give "The Donald Trump Treatment" to Virginia's Teachers

This column from Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch ought to get your blood pressure up!

House Bill 576 (Dickie Bell), which is backed by VSBA, VASS and Governor McDonnell, will be heard by the full Senate Education and Health Committee tomorrow morning at 8:30. We need for you to write your Senator now! Please click here to email a letter to your Senator.

Here is the text of the letter:

We are making Virginia a very unwelcoming place to start a teaching career. That is at our great peril. The turnover rate of Virginia teachers is 9 percent, according to the Virginia Department of Education. Many of our best and most experienced teachers are now or will in the next five years be eligible for retirement.

Virginia teacher education programs provide only a fraction of the new teachers required by Virginia school divisions—the rest must come from out of state.

What is the message we are sending those teacher candidates in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and other states? Come to Virginia: earn less, do more, go without job security, and earn inadequate retirement benefits. That is a recipe for disaster. And it would be a disaster for our students, who rely on you to provide a dedicated, well-trained teacher to guide them.

House Bill 576 would allow our experienced teachers in the future to be fired without reason and without due process.

The bill provides experienced teachers with a term contract for three years.

As is true now, a teacher could be laid off during the term in a reduction in force.

As is true now a teacher could be dismissed during the three year term with notice, hearing and proof of good cause. A teacher dismissed DURING the three year term gets full due process.

But that procedure will NOT be available if a teacher is denied a new three year term contract.

Read lines 426-428. “Nothing contained herein shall be taken to require cause … for nonrenewal of the contract of a teacher …in the last year of a three year contact.”

At line 394-395 the superintendent gives the teacher facing nonrenewal “the specific reasons, if any,” for the recommendation not to renew.

Line 474-475 provides “Dismissal shall not include the failure to grant a new term contract upon the expiration of a previous contract.”

An experienced teacher, who has completed probation, and worked successfully on a term contract – or completed many terms – can be denied continued employment. No reason is required to deny contract renewal. There is no procedure for the teacher to appear before the school board and no basis on which the teacher can appeal the decision.

At lines 163-165 the substitute provides “the division superintendent shall consider such evaluations, among other things, in making any recommendations to the school board regarding the nonrenewal of the term contract of any teacher.”

But no reason is required for the recommendation. Even a teacher with stellar evaluations and excellent student process can be denied contract renewal. That teacher will have no argument, recourse or procedure.

Improving teacher evaluation and professionalism is a laudable goal. But putting teachers on term contracts subject to renewal without good cause does not improve the teaching profession or benefit Virginia students.

Don’t give the “Donald Trump treatment to Virginia’s teachers.” I urge you to vote against HB 576.

Please send your letter now!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

HB 1129 Video/Write Your Delegate Re SB 498

Yesterday, I asked you to write your Senator urging opposition to HB 1129. VEA formed and is a member of the Virginia Pension Protection Coalition. One of our coalition partners is the Virginia Professional Firefighters. They just put out a great video on HB 1129 – I thought you might enjoy it. Click here to watch.

Today, I’ll summarize SB 498, which will reduce the retirement benefits of future teachers.

Click here to send a message to your delegate regarding SB 498.

SB 498 (Watkins) – Creates a new hybrid retirement program, administered by the VRS, creates a new retirement system including both a defined-contribution (DB) and a defined benefit (DC) components. All new state and local employees commencing employment on or after January 1, 2014 would make an irrevocable election to participate in the hybrid plan or the traditional retirement plan. Employees in-service on December 31, 2013 would be given the opportunity to make a one-time, irrevocable election to participate in the new hybrid program.

The Defined Benefit (DB) component would have a 1.0% multiplier that generates a 30% replacement rate after 30 years of service and requires a 4% member contribution. The current defined benefit program produces 51% replacement after 30 years.

The Defined Contribution (DC) component would require a 1% mandatory member contribution matched by the employer. Up to an additional 4% member contribution may be made with a corresponding 2.5% employer match. Total contributions to the DC component would be as follows:

Mandatory – 1% employee (EE) plus 1% employer (ER) match

Elective – 1% EE plus 1% ER match
3% EE plus 1.5% ER match

Total Possible Contributions to the DC component
5% EE plus 3.5% ER

Total possible employee contribution is 9% including the 4% for the DB.

Total possible employer contribution is 3.5% plus the actuarially determined DB contribution.

Localities could continue to participate in the VRS disability program, contract with a private disability insurance provider, or opt not to provide disability insurance. Localities would join the plan under a one-time irrevocable decision. This provision is a major disadvantage of this proposal.

The major advantage of this proposal when it is compared to the House plan (HB 1129) is that this proposal changes nothing for current employees.

Implementation would have significant undeterminable costs associated with systems development plus $1.3 million additional implementation costs.

The bill also requires a General Assembly phase in of full funding for the VRS Board’s certified contribution rate. Full payment would be reached in the 2018-2020 biennium.

In regard to this proposal, which was offered by JLARC as an option, “… employees at each income level used to measure income replacement could potentially exceed the income replacement targets if they could defer 5 percent of their salary to their retirement account in addition to the four percent required to the defined benefit portion, for a total of nine percent throughout their career …, however, a nine percent deferment level appears unlikely for most employees, given relatively low average salaries.”

Monday, February 20, 2012

Black Friday/HB 1129 Cuts Retirment Benefits for Current and Future VRS Members

Black Friday was highly successful in Bristol, Virginia. Kudos to the Bristol Education Association! Check out the news coverage of their protest. For those who haven’t been to this wonderful city on the Virginia/Tennessee boarder, put it on your list of places to see. You can cross from one state to another by walking across the street, and a meal at the Troutdale Bistro will make you think you have died and gone to heaven.

Kudos too, to the Culpeper Star Exponent for getting it!

The VEA Legislative Committee has taken a position in opposition to HB 1129. Please see the summary of the bill and seven reasons to oppose this bill below. Click here to write your Senator regarding this bill now.

HB 1129

This bill modifies several provisions of the defined benefit retirement plan.

Beginning January 1, 2012:

Calculation for average final compensation (AFC) will use the average of 60 months rather than the current 36 months; current employees may use a “frozen” 36 month AFC rather than the 60 month average if their benefit would be higher. The JLARC study estimates a 10 year savings of $509.5 million.

Except for those members who are within 5 years of unreduced retirement, the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) will be given for the first two percent of inflation plus one-half of the next two percent, for a maximum total of three percent (The current total if five percent).

Lowers multiplier from 1.7% to 1.6% for those members hired on or after January 1, 2013, except for hazardous duty employees and judges.

Early Retirees receive no COLA until 65/30. The JLARC study estimates a 10 year savings of $430.4 million.

Note: In HB 30 localities can require those hired before July 1, 2010 to pay all or a portion of the 5% employee contribution without an offsetting salary increase.

When we discuss retirement reform and HB 1129, it is important to note six things.

1. As a percentage of budget, Virginia is paying half (1.65%) toward the pension costs of employees as the average state (3.80%). – Boston College Center for Retirement Research

2. “Since 1992 … the teacher’s plan rates have been fully funded in only two years.” – p. iv, JLARC Review of Retirement Benefits for State and Local Government Employees

3. The VRS benefit structure is modest when compared to those in other states. “Nationally, for states that participate in Social Security, the average benefit multiplier is 1.97 percent.” – p. 60, JLARC Review of Retirement Benefits for State and Local Government Employees

4. According to the fiscal impact statement:

“This bill has significant cost associated with system development, publications, and training, these cannot be ascertained at this time.”

“VRS estimates that costs (other than system costs addressed above) would be approximately $377,795.”

“… the reductions in costs associated with these plan design changes will only be fully realized many years into the future.”

5. This bill changes the benefit for all current school board employees who are not within five years of their unreduced retirement date on July 1, 2013. This constitutes a “bait-and-switch” as these employees signed their contract with an understanding of the retirement benefits they would earn. As the fiscal impact statement for the bill states, this “can be challenged, and there is very little Virginia precedent on these issues.”

6. This bill significantly reduces retirement benefits to the extent that the purposes of our retirement system will not be fulfilled: to recruit high quality personnel to our schools, to retain these employees, and to allow employees timely retirement with an adequate income. This bill penalizes employees for the mismanagement of the VRS system by the General Assembly and breaks the promise made by the Commonwealth to VRS members.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Both Chambers Propose Modest Increases for Public Education: No Funds for Teacher Salaries

Despite modest adjustments in public education funding in both the House ($136 million and the Senate ($165 million), as Senator Norment noted “The general fund Direct Aid to Education appropriation for FY 2014 will remain below the levels in FY 2007.” These additional funds must be viewed in the context of the fact that funding to our schools has been cut by over $1.6 billion since 2008 (SOQ and other formulaic cuts).

While we are pleased that state employees and college faculty will see a salary increase, Virginia’s teachers desperately need the leadership of the General Assembly as Virginia’s teacher salary has fallen $7,083 behind the national average. The last time our teacher salary was this low as a percentage of the national average was 1964-65. No funds were allocated for the Teacher Salary Incentive Fund, and none have been provided since 2008.

The vote on the budget in the Senate Finance Committee was 9 to 6 passage. This straight party-line vote portends a deadlock on the Senate floor. The Lieutenant Governor is not empowered to vote on the budget and cannot break the tie.

The $29 million dollar gap in public education funding between the House and Senate is much narrower than what we saw with the Democrats controlled the Senate. Last year's gap was $106 million.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Circular Firing Squad Enables Voucher Bill to Pass?

This morning’s headlines across the state proclaimed that the Senate had passed SB 131. This tuition tax credit/voucher bill will surely pass the House. The Senate vote was 20-20, and Lieutenant Governor Bolling broke the tie to pass the bill. The Washington Post headline read, “School vouchers get tax credit from Va. Senate.”

The fiscal impact statement, from the Virginia Department of Taxation, said, “To the extent that this legislation is successful, it will result in future funding increases being less for public education than would otherwise be the case.”

The passage of this bill will dry up donations to public school foundations. Those who contribute to the private school voucher entities will receive a 65% state tax credit plus the federal deduction for a charitable donation. Those who contribute to public school foundations will receive only the charitable deduction. Corporations who want to do something for schools will have a much greater incentive to send their money to private schools.
State policy now will encourage parents making up to $69,000 a year to abandon our public schools.

I’m not sure we could have stopped this bill from passing, but the truth of the matter is that the education lobbyists on both sides of the issue could have worked this bill a lot harder had we not been fighting each other over the VSBA/VASS bill, HB 576, which deprives Virginia’s teachers of what little rights they do have under Virginia law.

I can’t help but wonder, would things would have been different if we had all been fighting together to protect public education rather than forming a circular firing squad? I can’t help but feel that we are heading for a decline in the quality of public education in Virginia.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Thanks VASSP, Black Indeed - Taxpayers to Fund Private School Tuitions

The fight to keep a fair dismissal process for Virginia’s teachers and principals by killing HB 576 in the Senate, has become a little less lonely. The Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals is standing with us. VEA applauds VASSP for their position opposing the passage of HB 576. Please click here to view their testimony against the bill.

Listen to Jeff Schapiro talk about the "teacher firing bill."

When teachers donned black in protest of declining support for public education, none would have known what a bleak day it would be for public education in Virginia. The National Education Association released a NEA Research Rankings and Estimates report showing that Virginia’s teacher salary has fallen to 31st in the nation. We have lost all the ground we gained under Governor’s Robb and Balilse,” said Dr. Kitty Boitnott, VEA President.

Virginia had risen to 21st when Mark Warner was Governor, now we have fallen to a ranking equal to when Governor Robb was inaugurated.

And,with the passage of SB 131,for the first time since Massive Resistance the General Assembly has authorized the use of public funds to pay private school tuitions at taxpayer expense. This bill diverts up to $25 million of General Fund revenue for the purpose of paying private school tuitions. Instead of taking money from public schools for tuition tax credits, we should improve public schools by decreasing class sizes, updating textbooks and preventing additional teacher layoffs. When public schools are struggling financially and laying off teachers, the last thing we need is to spend taxpayer money on private schools.

Notes: Virginia is the 7th wealthiest state in the nation, but ranks 35th in per pupil state funding.

Thanks to all who participated in Black Friday. Our president received many emails reporting what was happening in schools across Virginia. My favorite was from Victor Gravely at Max Meadows Elementary School in Wythe County. Victor wrote: “I am proud to say that if you were to cut off the lights here at MMES you wouldn't see any classroom or office personnel unless they were smiling. Everybody here loved the idea, including nonmembers and all party affiliations. : )” I love the folks in Southwest Virginia – they know how to stick together and they do it with humor!

My former local, the Virginia Beach Education Association, got some great TV Coverage.

The House and Senate will present their amendments to the Governor’s budget on Sunday. Please check this blog on Sunday evening.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Black Friday/Funding Public Education/Firing a State Worker

Don’t forget to wear black on Friday. Spread the word with this flier.

The focus of the General Assembly is shifting to the budget. VEA, PTA, VML and VACO held a press conference today calling on the legislators to make public education a priority as they develop the biennial budget. Click here to see the remarks of PTA President Ann Carson and VEA President Kitty Boitnott.

Click here to send a letter to your Senator and Delegate urging increased funding for our schools.

I have the greatest respect for Dr. Pat Wright, our Superintendent of Public Instruction, but I have been deeply disappointed by her support for HB 576. I have indicated before in this blog that teachers and principals are singled out in this bill.

Let’s look at the dismissal process for the folks that work for Dr. Wright at the Department of Education and all other state workers:

State employee can grieve termination under expedited procedure. The grieving employee files written grievance with designated Senior Agency Manager. If the matter is not resolved the Agency requests appointment of a hearing officer from Department of Employment Dispute Resolution. The hearing officer is an experienced qualified attorney chosen through a competitive selection process in accordance with state statute. The hearing officer has authority to order reinstatement and attorneys fees in grievances challenging discharge.

The Department of Employment Dispute Resolution advises here that issues including formal discipline or dismissal for unsatisfactory performance are automatically qualified for hearing under the grievance procedure. Section 4.1(a) of the Grievance Procedure. A grievance regarding arbitrary performance evaluation MAY qualify for hearing under Section 4.1(b) of the Procedure.

This Flyer Flyer (Form EDR 11/06 A) from the Department of Employment Dispute Resolution summarizes the Grievance Procedure

So, the teacher gets a hearing before a panel, and the school board makes the final decision. But, the state employees get a hearing before an officer with the authority to reinstate them. Now they want to take even that level of due process from teachers and principals. At the end of the three year term contract in HB 576, teachers and principals get no hearing – they don’t even have to get a reason as to why they are being fired. Why should teachers and principals be treated in such an inequitable manner?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Contract Battle Is Not Over!

On the teacher contract issue, HB 576 will soon be taken up by the Senate. Presumably it will go to the Public Education Subcommittee of Senate Education and Health.

We have a chance to kill the bill in subcommittee, but we need one Republican vote – Blevins, Black or Carrico.

If we can’t kill it in subcommittee, the next chance will be in the full committee. We need one Republican to keep the bill from advancing (Martin, Newman, Blevins, Smith, McWaters, Black, and Carrico).

If we can’t stop it there, it is back to the full Senate. Great pressure is being levied on Norment and Watkins, who helped us yesterday.

Please do all you can to generate calls and emails to your Senator urging opposition to HB 576.

We first learned that we would be in this battle this session when the Virginia Association of School Superintendents included term contracts, lengthening the probationary period, and changing the notification date for non-renewals from April 15th to June 15th. This is all spelled out on their 2011-2012 Legislative Issues.

They complain that it is too hard to fire a teacher. If a teacher is on continuing contract, a reason must be given. The teacher can appeal the dismissal to a panel. The panel reviews the facts and offers a recommendation to the School Board, and the final decision is made by the school board.

Now let’s look at what a school board has to do to fire a superintendent:

Virginia Code § 22.1-65. Punishment of division superintendents.
A division superintendent may be assessed a reasonable fine, suspended from office for a limited period or removed from office by either the Board of Education, upon recommendation of the Superintendent of Public Instruction or the school board of the division for sufficient cause. A division superintendent may appeal to the appropriate circuit court any decision of the Board of Education or school board to assess a fine against him or to suspend or remove him from office and shall be entitled to a trial de novo on such appeal of whether there was sufficient cause therefor.
(Code 1950, § 22-40; 1980, c. 559; 1990, c. 517.)

So, the teacher gets a hearing before a panel, and the school board makes the final decision. But, the superintendent gets a trial after the school board has ruled. I wonder if the superintendents should have opened this can of worms.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

One Funny Valentine, and Today's Bills

The real drama of the day was provided in the debate over the teacher contract bill, SB 438. We needed one more vote to kill the bill. Senator Norment rose to speak. He said that his daughter sent him an email this morning. She wrote to him saying, “Happy Valentine’s Day, Dad. I love you. Don’t stick it to the teachers.” His daughter, Casey Bailey, is a kindergarten teacher at D. J. Montague in Williamsburg – James City County, a VEA member, and a Lobby Day participant. He said he couldn’t go home if he voted for SB 438. Every teacher in Virginia owes Casey thanks! At that point, fearing the bill would be killed, Senator Newman asked that the bill go by temporarily. Presumably, the Governor and his staff wanted time to deal for a vote to counter Norment’s defection.

The Governor could not do his magic, and when SB 438 was considered again, the final vote was 18-20. The bill failed. We owe thanks to the 20 Senate Democrats, and to Norment and Watkins, who walked on the final vote.

This battle is not over as the House Bill, 576, is still alive. We have fought the good fight engaging everyone from VEA’s Executive Director and President to one most important kindergarten teacher. We need to keep the heat on to kill HB 576.

Today was Crossover, and each chamber, House and Senate, so the calendars were thick and the hours long. Too many bills met their fate for me to go into much detail. Here’s a list and a thumbnail description of what education related bills that passed and what failed.

SB 498 – establishes a new hybrid retirement plan to replace the current plan. Current employees would have the option of joining this new plan, but it is mandatory for new employees. Passed 40-0.

SB 497 – requires school board employees to pay the 5% employee contribution to VRS. The school board must give offsetting salary increases, and the payment can be phased in 1% per year.

SB 598 – addresses virtual school funding, Passed 39-10.

HB 321 – this bill establishes a tuition tax credit program to pay private school tuition at taxpayer expense. Passed 64-35

HB 325 – this bill requires training for aides and teachers assigned autistic children. Passed 99-1.

HB 1129 – this bill reduces VRS benefits by reducing the multiplier from 1.7% to 1.6%, capping the COLA at 3% rather than the current 5%, and basing the average final compensation on the high 5 years rather than the high 3 years. Those within 5 years of unreduced retirement are grandfathered. Passed 74-26.

HB 1181 – Third grade reading intervention. Passed 100-0.

HB 1248 – transfers general funds, 30% of which now go to public education, to fund transportation. Passed 63-35.

HB 512 – Machinery and Tools Intangible Personal Property tax bill which would have reduced local government taxing authority when localities are under great stress and are having a difficult time supporting our schools. Failed 35-65.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Fat Lady Doesn't Sing Until March 11th

We are doing our best to defeat HB 576 and SB 438 the bills which single out teachers and principals and deprive them of a fair dismissal procedure. I am heartened by the fact that people from across the state, who are not educators, are calling me to ask why this is happening to Virginia's teachers.

I think it is important that this question is answered. The Governor fully supports these bills. The only thing we can do to return the favor is to Vote for Ron Paul in the upcoming Presidential Primary on March 6th. The Virginia Association of School Superintendents supports it, but the only thing we can do is express our disappointment. Click here to see the members of their board who made the decision. The Virginia School Board Association not only supports it - their lobbyist wrote the bill.

I hope, too, that we will remember the House vote on the bill today (55-43) on November 5, 2013. Joannou was the only Democrat to vote for HB 576. Twelve Republicans and 31 Democrats voted against the bill.

The final Senate vote on SB 438, the teacher contract bill is tomorrow, so keep the calls and emails going to Senate offices.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Senate Letter and Some Observations

I know things look bleak at this point in the 2012 General Assembly Session, but we are two days before half-time, and on Tuesday evening all of the Senate bills will go to the House and vice versa. Clint Eastwood would say, “It’s halftime.” Or, as Yogi would have said, “It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.” We can still kill some of these bad bills if we work together.

On Friday, I asked you to write your delegate, now is the time to write your senator. Do so by clicking here. The letter appears at the bottom of this post.

During Friday’s debate on the teacher contract bill, Delegate Bobby Orrock (R) of Caroline County said, "I've had at least two instances where I had administrators that I got a little crossways with," said Orrock, who currently teaches at Spotsylvania High School. "But because I was doing my job, they couldn't get rid of me summarily. Although those two tried their best." Bobby offered insight into the real world of a teacher, and we thank him for that!

Click here to check out the article in the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star.

Delegate Jennifer McClellan (D) from Richmond wrote an op-ed piece on the same topic in this morning’s RTD. Check it out!

Interestingly, the RTD also came out against the Tebow bill in the lead editorial:

“A proposal to let home-schooled children compete on public-school sports teams — the so-called Tim Tebow bill — is gaining momentum. It shouldn't. Home-schooling parents deserve respect and admiration. But they should not get to pick and choose which aspects of public education their children will join. Rather, they should look to private-school athletic associations if their children want to participate in team sports.”

Here’s the letter to the Senate:

As we move into the press of the final days before Crossover, you will be considering a number of bills which will have a great impact on the ability of our Commonwealth to attract and retain high quality teaching personnel.

It is important that you consider some key facts regarding the teacher workforce as you make your decisions regarding these bills. According to the Virginia Department of Education in 2010-2011 we had 98,792 teachers. We have an 8.9% turnover rate. That means we need to hire 8,694 teachers per year. Virginia teacher preparation programs at our colleges and universities are producing 3,247 teachers per year. Clearly, we must position the Commonwealth to attract future teachers from out of state.

Three bills before you will diminish our ability to recruit the best and brightest young teachers to Virginia, and I urge you to oppose these bills:

SB 438 will deny future teachers and principals a fair dismissal policy. All other state and local government employees will retain fair dismissal procedures, and all of our neighboring states offer fair dismissal policies to teachers.

SB 498 proposes a hybrid DB/DC plan for new hires. This ill-advised plan makes it harder to recruit and retain quality teachers by not providing competitive benefits and does not allow educators to retire with sufficient retirement income, unless they work almost 40 years and save at a high rate in their personal accounts. The bill Increases administrative costs by over $1 million dollars and saves the state, in the best case scenario, less than $75 million over twenty years.

SB 241, a tuition tax credit proposal, will reduce future funding increases, according to the Fiscal Impact Statement. The FIS says, “To the extent that this legislation is successful, it will result in future funding increases being less for public education than would otherwise be the case.” This is not the time to create the new entitlement of paying private school tuitions at taxpayer expense. Our efforts should be devoted to improving the public schools attended by 94.8% of Virginia’s children.

I wish you wisdom, patience, and endurance in these grueling days prior to Crossover.