Officials with Lynchburg City Schools on Friday discussed ways local, state and federal legislators can help schools and students in Lynchburg to succeed.
“We are making great strides here in Lynchburg,” LCS Superintendent Edwards said during a legislative breakfast Friday morning at E.C. Glass High School. “However, we still have work to do and we need your help to get there.”
The purpose of the legislative breakfast — which was attended by State Sen. Mark Peake; State House Delegate Kathy Byron; State House Delegate-elect Wendell Walker; and representatives from the offices of U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine and U.S. Rep. Ben Cline — was to develop stronger relationships between schools and legislators, according to Susan Morrison, chairwoman of the Lynchburg City School Board.
“As the needs of our students and community members change, we have to be able to address those needs,” Morrison said. “We need the support of all our legislators in our local government, our state government and our national government to make this happen for our students.”
The meeting also was attended by Lynchburg Mayor Treney Tweedy and several members of the Lynchburg City Council.
“Lynchburg schools are rocking it right now,” Tweedy said. “Do we have challenges? Yes. However, we also have a lot of successes to celebrate.”
During the meeting, Edwards outlined four strategic goals for the division and discussed how legislators could help LCS reach these goals. Edwards said elected officials can help the division reach each of the four goals — student growth, development and success; personal growth, development and success; fiscal responsibility; and family and community engagement — through legislation and funding initiatives at the local, state and federal levels that support education.
“This has to be a community effort,” Edwards said. “It will take us all working together to work.”
Edwards asked legislators to continue support for early childhood education throughout the state.
“This is so important because this is where it all starts,” Edwards said. “If we can get them early, our students can be successful.”
Edwards said LCS supports a raise in teacher salaries to at least the national average. According to the National Education Association, the national average for teacher salaries is about $61,000 a year. The average teacher salary in Virginia is about $51,000, according to the same report.
“Virginia is ranked 11th in the nation for median income [overall] but we are in the bottom 20 in teacher salaries,” Edwards said. “I would like to see our teachers ranked 11th in salaries.”
Michael Nilles, a member of the division’s Legislative Advocacy Committee, asked the legislators to consider a review of the formula used by the state to determine the funds a locality is required to pay for expenses as determined by the state’s Standard of Quality (SOQ).
“Last year you all announced that teachers were getting a 5% raise,” Nilles said. “While the teachers are saying ‘yay, we are getting a raise,’ we are saying “oh no, we have to come up with the matching funds.’ “
Byron and Peake both said the formula used by the state is in place to ensure funding is distributed as equally as possible to school division’s across Virginia.
“The formula ensures that the localities also make an investment in their teachers,” Byron said. “That is why the historical match came into play.”
“There is no change that would benefit our region because other regions are complaining that they are paying more in and the money is coming to us,” Peake said. “That is why we have kept the formula steady for as long as we have. I would love to see teacher salaries in Virginia up to 11th in the nation as well, but the state can’t fund all of that. This has to be a community effort and the localities have to contribute as well.”
After the legislative breakfast, Peake and Walker met with a senior Advanced Government class at the school to answer questions from students about the future of state government in Virginia going into 2020.
“That is why we are really here today,” Peake told students in the class. “We want to hear what the concerns are in our schools and the concerns of our young people because you all are the future of Virginia.”