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2024 budget proposal for Newport News Public Schools heavily focuses on safety, security

A boost for teachers, student mental health support and recruitment efforts were also priorities outlined in the multi-million dollar budget.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Parents and educators in Newport News weighed in on a $381.4 million budget plan for the upcoming school year

Their comments came after Interim Superintendent Dr. Michelle Mitchell promised in a March 7 meeting that this proposal focuses on school safety and security like never before.

Despite low turnout at the public hearing Tuesday evening, some Newport News parents and teachers shared their thoughts on the proposed budget.

It includes roughly $3.2 million for building safety improvements, like 200 extra radios, replacements to cameras, fire and intrusion alarm systems and backup metal detectors. 

Division leaders are also asking for funding to hire a director of safety and emergency management and 30 additional security officers.

"They do have some good plans coming up, but as far as security officers, I'd like to know more. I'd like to know what kind of training and background they have," said Newport News Public Schools parent and employee Amanda D'Onofrio. 

In a span of 18 months, the division dealt with three high-profile shootings on school grounds, including at Richneck Elementary.

Moving forward, there are also plans to add 11 full-time positions focused on student mental health support, like behavior support coaches, licensed clinical social workers and school-based program support specialists.

"Just with the children we service, they definitely need that because it's becoming a crisis. I think that's appreciated. That's also going to help staff out because staff is overwhelmed," said special education teacher Cherone Small, who also serves as vice president of Newport News Education Association. 

When it comes to employee pay, the budget recommends an increase of 5% for support staff members, like custodians, instructional assistants, security officers and school nurses.

Tuesday night, Newport News Education Association President Dr. James Graves spoke positively about the plan for teachers.

"It's a big step for us moving forward with collective bargaining," Graves said. 

Some teachers could get raises ranging from 7% to 10.4%. In a presentation before school board members on March 7, division leaders also said they want to work on experience adjustments, if funding allows "to prevent further [salary] compression."

Additionally, plans are to increase starting teacher salaries from $50,000 to $52, 710.

Parents like D'Onofrio, however, believe there should be more money in the budget for teachers. She asked, "If they can afford hundreds of thousands for the administrators and superintendent, why can't we pay our teachers a livable wage?"

Moreover, recognizing how recruitment remains a challenge, school division leaders look to continue offering new hire signing bonuses at $3,000 for teachers and $2,000 for bus drivers.

Board members are expected to vote on the budget on March 21. 

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