Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb is proposing that the state spend $250 million to raise the salaries of public school teachers and university faculty 10 percent in each of the next two fiscal years--an action that his aides today called "absolutely essential" to meet the state's education needs.
The salary increases--coupled with a new $50 million program to promote Virginia as a national center of high technology research and industry--were disclosed today as aides unveiled the Democratic governor's targeted objectives for the 1984 to 1986 biennial budget.
The projected $15.4 billion budget, which the governor's aides said rules out any general tax increases, represents Robb's first opportunity to draft the state's entire spending plan since he took office in January 1982.
The call for back-to-back pay raises--$166 million of which will be earmarked for the state's 65,000 public school teachers--comes during a national debate over the quality of education. In Virginia, teachers' groups have complained that the state's efforts to improve school standards are being undercut by local school boards, something Robb hopes to avoid in the upcoming budget. The average teacher's salary in the state last year was $17,009, a figure more than 10 percent below the national average of $19,142.
Wayne Anderson, secretary of administration and finance, emphasized today that Robb was committed to overcoming that gap during his term. "Teacher salaries are the touchstone and most important point of leverage in improving education," Anderson said. "He will get there to the national average in the new biennium. That's his determination."
While applauding Robb's proposals, several state legislators and the Virginia Education Association reacted cautiously to those claims. In its past two sessions, the General Assembly has allocated monies to local school boards for teacher salary increases of 10 percent and 9.7 percent, respectively, only to watch more than half of those boards decline to funnel the increased state aid to teachers.
In Northern Virginia this year, local boards granted teacher pay increases of 3 percent, a figure that teachers' groups charge will undermine the area's ability to attract and retain quality teachers.
Some localities, such as Petersburg, have used the extra state money to reduce their own local funding for education. "It was almost criminal," said State Del. James H. Dillard II (R-Fairfax), a school administrator.
VEA President Brenda Cloyd said today that Robb had made the "right commitment" in proposing the increases but that she was not necessarily optimistic that the extra money would find its way into teachers' paychecks. "Until the localities put up their share, it won't," she said.
The refusal of local school boards to pass on the earlier increases has prompted the VEA and some legislators to call for mandated salary increases from Richmond. Anderson noted today that thus far the state attorney general has held such proposals questionable. But Anderson said Robb may attempt to find new ways to see that the added money goes to teachers.
In briefing the Senate Finance Committee, Anderson said the governor's other new funding initiatives included $116 million for state worker pay increases of 5 percent plus a "pay for performance" package that will give employes increases roughly equal to that of teachers. There also will be $6 million set aside for a regional program with Maryland and North Carolina to fight industrial pollution and other threats to the Chesapeake Bay.
Anderson and Robb aides offered few details on the $50 million high-technology program--which, along with education, is among Robb's top priorities. A Robb task force on Science and Technology is expected to make its recommendations in July. The new program will be used to fund the recommendations and is likely to include such items as grants to universities for research and economic development promotions aimed at luring high-tech firms to the state, Anderson said.
In planning these new initiatives, Robb is banking on projected increases of about 18 percent in state revenues from a rebounding economy--a forecast that Anderson acknowledged is tentative and could require "significant changes" before the budget is formally presented to the General Assembly in January. In addition, Robb proposes to free up more than $520 million in monies through a financial exercise called "level funding," essentially freezing expenditures for 76 of the 102 state agencies during the next two years.
Full details of that proposal won't be disclosed until Monday. Because of that, some legislators were cautious in reacting to Robb's proposals.
"People know damn well that the same number of dollars can't fund the same level of services over a two-year period," said Sen. Edward E. Willey (D-Richmond), chairman of the Finance Committee. "I don't know what they're robbing Peter of. I don't know what they're planning to cut out."