Norfolk schools look to address pay equity with gradual increases over 4 years

The School Board is trying to ease pay compression that has built up over the years due to salary and pay scale freezes, and wants the process to move faster.

The first phase of a four-year plan to address pay equity concerns has been included in the board’s approved operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Under the plan, employees hired before Feb. 1, 2016, will see gradual step increases on the pay scale over the next four years.

In that phase, 2,250 employees would receive between five and nine increases, depending on when they were hired. This would cost the division more than $13 million.

“This is designed to recognize those employees who have been most senior with us and who actually were here during the years when there was no step movement,” Chief Human Resources Officer Dandridge Timothy Billups said.

These employees were identified in a compensation study as having experienced the worst of the pay compression because of the step and salary freezes between 2012-16. This meant their experience did not match the step they were on.

Billups explained that the division has never operated on a one-to-one scale, meaning that one year of experience equals one step, but this plan should bring the district closer to that.

The plan was to deal with the issue in phases to alleviate strain on the budget. However, members of the board pushed the administration to find that $13 million to implement the step increases “more aggressively.”

“We have such great academic needs, and we are vying for the teachers in our area, because there is a significant shortage,” Board Member Noelle Gabriel said. “So if it means that we have to make some very bold and perhaps even risky decisions with regards to compensating our teachers appropriately and retaining them, I am willing to have that conversation.”

Board member Leon Rouson said he supports the plan and said the board should be preparing for teacher shortages in the coming years.

The first phase of these step increases has been factored into employee contracts ready to be sent out, Superintendent Sharon Byrdsong said. This is about $2 million of the proposed $13 million total.

This step adjustment plan is separate from the teacher salary increases in the state budget that has been sent to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk for final approval. The budget includes increased spending in public K-12 education.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the hire dates for employees impacted by the school division’s plans to address pay equity. This story has been updated.