Not surprisingly, salary increases rank as a top priority for county school employees in this year’s budget discussions, according to a recent survey by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers.
Yet despite concerns voiced by Superintendent Karen Garza and School Board members that teachers would flee the county without a pay raise, the survey results show that worries about teachers leaving for greener pastures may be overblown.
In the survey, which polled FCFT members, more than 60 percent ranked an increase in salary for teachers or all employees. Despite a projected $98.3 million budget shortfall, Garza publicly has pledged to include salary increases in next year’s budget so Fairfax stays competitive among local school districts.
“Employee compensation is a division-wide priority,” Garza said at a budget meeting with the county’s Board of Supervisors. “We are very concerned with keeping the best teachers in our classrooms.”
But when asked what they would do if they did not receive a “significant salary increase,” just 13 percent of the 1,428 respondents said they would go elsewhere in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region for work. More of the respondents (15 percent) said they would leave the education field entirely.
Teachers in Fairfax have only received what the survey defines as a “significant” bump in pay, a 2 percent step increase based on experience, once in the past five years, in 2012. The school system estimates that such an increase for the 2015 budget would add $42.7 million to the budget deficit.
Pay was frozen in 2010 and 2011 because of the economic recession, and in the past two years teachers have made do with modest increases. Last year, the county approved $22 million in raises, and part of that money now figures into this year’s budget shortfall.
The average salary for teachers in Fairfax County ranks below Montgomery County, Arlington County and Alexandria, according to statistics from the Washington Area Boards of Education.
As teachers gain experience, Fairfax loses ground in the salary comparison. Fairfax’s maximum teacher salary ranks higher than only Prince George’s County and on par with Falls Church when compared to the other Maryland and Virginia school districts surrounding Washington, D.C.
Still, 42 percent of the survey respondents said if they did not receive a significant raise, they would still continue working in the county.
However, through the survey employees did point out hardship that a stagnant salaries cause. Of the respondents, 25 percent said they would be forced to take on a second or third job to pay their bills.
“I’m living paycheck to paycheck right now, and worry is taking its toll on me,” one teacher commented on the survey.
Steve Greenburg, the president of the FCFT, expressed concern that extensive workloads and outside jobs would detract from the level of education teachers could provide their students.
Greenburg pushes county and school officials to see classroom teachers as a key investment.
“The most important thing is the kids,” Greenburg said. “And a great teacher is the best place to invest money for our students.”