Correction: The article incorrectly said the average teacher salary in Virginia is $7,800 below the national average. The average teacher salary in the state is $7,000 below the national average. This version has been updated.
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell said 2013 will be “the year of the teacher” in Virginia as he outlined proposals that would give teachers their first state-funded pay raise since 2007 — and make it easier to fire them.
McDonnell on Thursday proposed a combination of bigger incentives, improved professional support and a streamlined process for administrators to cut loose teachers who aren’t doing well. He suggested lengthening the probationary period from three years to five to give principals more time to evaluate teachers before putting them on the “continuing contract” that makes it harder to dismiss experienced school employees.
The Republican’s budget will include almost $59 million for raises of 2 percent for school employees — which would have to be matched from budgets at the local level — and $15 million for grants to school systems to give pay incentives to great teachers. And McDonnell said he will push for the money despite a tight budget and worries about a potential drop in federal funding. School investment, support and reform will be one of his top two priorities in the coming year, he said.
“We’ll give you more tools, more money and more help,” he pledged to teachers, a group of schoolchildren at his feet. “Whatever your dreams are, it all starts with having a great school and a great teacher.”
The raises would be “a start,” he said, as teacher salaries in Virginia would still be below the national average.
The state will keep the continuing contracts but make sure the process for earning them is more rigorous.
The new raises would be tied to passage of an act that extends teachers’ probationary periods, clarifies the definition of “incompetence” and streamlines grievance procedures.
“They need to go together — accountability and compensation are inextricably linked,” McDonnell said at a news conference Thursday. Associations of superintendents, principals and businesses and leaders of school boards praised the proposals to reward teachers who excel, provide more help for those who are struggling and ease the removal of underperforming teachers.
The governor also proposed nearly $1 million to recruit and retain science, technology, engineering and math teachers for middle and high schools, as well as a “teaching cabinet” to advise state leaders, a partnership with a university and teaching academies for professional growth.
Meg Gruber, president of the Virginia Education Association, said that the proposal was a surprise to her group and that members are cautiously optimistic about some of the ideas, such as the teaching academies. But Gruber said she hasn’t read the full bill yet and wasn’t sure of its potential effects.
“We’re glad to see the governor acknowledging that Virginia teachers are underpaid,” said Gruber, who is on leave from teaching in the Prince William County public school system. “The average teacher salary in Virginia is $7,000 below the national average.”