Lynchburg City schools consider giving employees a 'living wage'

By Keya Vakil

May 23, 2019

Virginia’s Republican-controlled General Assembly may have blocked multiple attempts to raise Virginia’s low minimum wage, but increasingly, companies, localities, and academic institutions are taking matters into their own hands and raising employees’ wages.

The Lynchburg City school division may be next. According to the News & Advance, most school board members indicated their support for the idea of raising salaries for dozens of the school district’s lowest-paid employees to give them a “living wage.”

A living wage is the hourly rate a full-time working adult needs to earn to afford basic necessities, such as food, childcare, housing and transportation. The living wage varies based on geographical location, and according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage calculator, the living wage for one adult in Lynchburg is $11.28 per hour, or $23,462 per year for a full-time worker.

The school division has roughly 85 classified employees who earn less than $11.28 per hour, including custodians, student support assistants and grounds workers.

Board member Atul Gupta wants to give all employees a living wage in order to separate the city’s schools from other school divisions and attract more employees, but said they may need to take incremental steps and raising a few dozen employees’ salaries would be a good first step.

Superintendent Crystal Edwards said the division has roughly $2.2 million that was allotted for medical claims that has gone unused and can be reallocated.

At a meeting on Tuesday, the school division presented the board with two plans for raising salaries. The first would raise hourly rates to between $10.95 and $11.11 per hour, depending on the position, which would cost the division $74,523 per year, according to the News & Advance. The second option would bring all employees to at least $11.28 and would cost just under $120,000.

Lynchburg City Schools Director of Personnel Marie Gee expressed some hesitation about the latter plan, saying it would eliminate experience as a factor in hourly wages and would compress the bottom of the salary scale. For example, the across-the-board raise could result in a new bus assistant making nearly as much as a new bus driver and a new custodian making more than a new head custodian.

Some board members also expressed concerns about the impact that moving all employees up to a living wage would have on retention and morale; wages on different tiers would be so close that it would essentially render experience meaningless.

Gee said she wants to get to a place where no one in the division has to work a second job, but said it would require incremental steps.

The board will continue discussing the idea at its meeting on June 4.

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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