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Prince George Campaign Wins Pay Boost, New Members

Just one year ago, Prince George Education Association (PGEA) President Bill Barnes bit his tongue as the chairman of the local school board delivered comments prepared for him by the chairman of the county board of supervisors. The message: employee salaries—specifically a small, overdue pay increase for teachers—were the reason local tax rates were being raised.

Not wanting to jeopardize the pay hike, Barnes held his fire. But he and other members of PGEA dived into the details of the county’s budget and not only disproved that faulty assumption, they launched a campaign that resulted in a recent agreement on an average 8.7-percent increase beginning next year.

“What the school board and board of supervisors have agreed to will amount to the largest transfer of money from the county to the school board in the county’s history,” says Barnes, who’s in his third year as PGEA president and is director of guidance at N.B. Clements Junior High.

The key was getting the two boards to agree to live up to a memorandum of understanding that laid out the revenue streams to be available to fund school programs. “During the past five years, the increase in those revenue streams has been greater than $10 million,” says Barnes. “But the county’s actual contribution to education decreased by nearly $59,000.”

Meanwhile, Prince George fell behind neighboring school divisions with whom it competes for teachers. The Association’s research, confirmed by a study by the school division’s consultant, showed that most Prince George teachers, especially those in midcareer, earned considerably less than their peers in surrounding counties.

Those facts meant the school division stood to lose large number of teachers to better-paying school divisions like Chesterfield and Henrico.  “Many of our teachers live in Chesterfield, which pays more,” says Barnes. “If you figure that teacher is spending $200 a month on gasoline driving to work here and is already behind $200 a month because of the pay scale, they’re losing out by $400 a month.”

Several factors helped turn the tide. For one, the PGEA’s “Nine is Fine” campaign (nine because a 9-percent increase was needed to reach parity with neighboring divisions) energized local members, who packed school board and supervisors meetings to capacity.

Second, the Association played a key role in supporting new candidates for the school board and board of supervisors, and helped seven of their 10 choices win at the ballot box.

And that’s led to the third factor, which is that the school board and board of supervisors are working more harmoniously and productively. “That’s maybe the biggest achievement,” says Barnes.

PGEA’s activism has membership on the upswing. The Association picked up several new members at an April reception for teachers at N.B. Clements. One of them, Whitney Thompson, burst into the room asking Barnes, “Where do I sign up?” (Words any Association leader loves to hear!) Another new member, Margo Beverly, said the new pay scale will boost her pay about $6,000, adding that PGEA’s work securing the raise helped convince her to join. “It’s nice to know that the organization has some power,” she said.


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