Petersburg School Board Folds on Union Bargaining

by James C. Sherlock

The Petersburg Education Association has a plan for collective bargaining.

So, once, did the school board. Unanimously.

We have been looking for signs of strength in the Petersburg School Board so we can believe it will take strong and innovative measures to improve the city’s dreadful schools.

It is the wrong place to look. The union routed the board on collective bargaining without resistance.

Petersburg School Board – Official Photo

The state, during the Democratic interregnum in the General Assembly and governorship, made local government collective bargaining optional.

On June 21st, the Petersburg board passed a resolution for teachers, guidance counselors and librarians who hold a teaching license to have a form of collective bargaining.

As reported by The Progress-Index’s Joyce Chu,

The resolution does not allow teachers the ability to negotiate their wages or benefits, limiting the scope of negotiations to hours and scheduling, health and safety, and work rules.

Just a guess, but that board likely did not vote originally to allow negotiations on wages or benefits for a pretty good reason.

Changes in working conditions alone can drive up costs.

And Petersburg, which has already been in state financial collapse once, is fully extended financially.

The City’s ability to pay. One of the foundational policies for budget development is that current revenues will fund current expenditures.

All in, the “Total General Fund” revenues of Petersburg in FY 2023-24 are forecast to be $4.5 million less than actual revenues in 2021-22, even with a very large increase in forecast revenues in 2023-24 over actual revenues from the previous year.


As for public safety,

  • In the police force, vacancies included one of three Police Captains, four of six Police Lieutenants, one of twelve Sergeants and seven of 69 Officers;
  • In the Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services, vacant positions included Fire Chief, Deputy Fire Chief, one of five battalion chiefs, two of fifteen Fire Captains, and ten of fifteen Fire Sergeants.

Nine of 40 positions in Streets were vacant; twenty six of 113 vacant in Social Services; eight of 22 in the Library; five of 9 in Planning, including the Director. Director of Neighborhood Services, vacant.

Petersburg gets infrastructure grants for water, sewer and flood control. But that money is fenced. Long-term borrowing is for capital projects.

The 2023-24 transfer to schools is $12,361,478. Up 40% since 2020-21.

Given the rest of the numbers, that represents a major prioritization for school funding to the detriment of everything else. The City has done what it can and then some.

Petersburg Schools. The Petersburg City Public School System is comprised of six schools, one early childhood center, and one alternative program.

There are four K-5 elementary schools and services for three- and four-year old students at the Westview Early Childhood Education Center.

There are two secondary schools, Vernon Johns Middle School and Petersburg High School.

The Governor’s schools offer opportunities for high school students. Petersburg Public Schools participates in the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government & International Studies and the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts on West Washington St. in Petersburg.  Admission is by application through their local school division and review by each school’s regional committee.

The Blandford Academy Alternative Program provides services to secondary students where a traditional setting has not been successful at meeting their needs.

Petersburg teachers in three charts. For a look at the Petersburg school system’s teachers:




An argument could be made that higher pay would result in dismissal of many of the current teachers and hiring of more qualified replacements that are fully licensed.

But I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the union won’t tolerate that in a new contract. And that the school board will never ask for that provision.

Bottom line. Notwithstanding the well-known city finances, the Petersburg Education Association raged at the school board that the resolution they passed was a slap in the face.

On August 17th the board, under union pressure, totally folded — scrapping its former unanimous position on collective bargaining.

The board is going to form a committee with the union to figure out the next step.

I recommend the board put on the table annual salary increases or cuts based on progress or lack of same toward meeting the criteria in the school board’s excellent but dead-letter Corrective Action Plan.

Such a provision would align student achievement with teacher and administrator pay.

That is why, like firing poorly-performing and unqualified teachers in favor of better ones, it will never happen.

Getting back to what they are going to actually negotiate, the school board had it right the first time. If the package includes rights for the union to negotiate higher wages and benefits, good luck paying for them.

But if you are looking for certainty, bet that there will be no reference to the needs of the students in that negotiation.

The children need the state constitution change I have lobbied for:

  • so that the state can take over the hopelessly underperforming schools and school divisions;
  • so that the state can issue charters to public charter schools so that they don’t need school division permission that the unions will never permit; and
  • so that the state can issue vouchers for every poor kid and his or her family stuck in underperforming school divisions and schools.

You know.

Like states do when they care about a quality education for every kid.