Study: Teaching in FCPS a Six-Figure Career Salary Sacrifice

by Karen Goff December 8, 2015 at 11:30 am 38 Comments


A teacher in Fairfax County Public Schools can expect to make nearly $300,000 less than a one employed in nearby Arlington County during the course of the teacher’s career.

That is a finding by a study from Segal Waters Consulting presented to the FCPS School Board at a work session on Monday.

FCPS is in the process of determining its budget needs for Fiscal Year 2017, and it has repeatedly pointed out that 1) salaries are not keeping pace with neighboring school systems; and 2) the rising cost of employee benefits is one of the drivers of an expected budget gap of more than $50 million.

FCPS has withheld step increases for teachers for three of the last six years. Salary scale adjustments were also frozen for two of the past six years. FCPS said in a budget presentation two weeks ago that 2017 spending will be up more than $113 million from 2016. Some of the biggest spending will be on step increases and benefits for employees; growing enrollment; and infrastructure.

The study showed that FCPS teacher salaries start to lag behind at around Year 5 of a teacher’s career.  Over a 30-year career, an FCPS teacher earns $142,000 less than the survey average and $293,000 less than a teacher at Arlington Public Schools.

The study showed Year 5 of a career for a teacher with a master’s degree, using current pay lanes as a comparison, a teacher earns $2,804 less than teachers in the average of neighboring districts. By year 10, that figure grows to $6,820; by year 15, the annual gap is $8,569.

“Our superior teachers are the heart of FCPS and I find the salary comparisons to be sobering and very concerning. As I have said many times, we cannot cut our way to excellence,” FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza said in a statement. “As a community we can, and we must, do better. If we expect to maintain and grow the outstanding achievement of our school system, we must make significant investments in our teachers.”

Garza said that teacher turnover has risen from 5 to 7 percent in the last few years. Many of the teachers head to Loudoun or Arlington. FCPS said more than half of teachers who left said that pay rates influenced their decision to leave. Thirty percent said it influenced their decision a great deal.

“This third-party study is proof that multiple years of pay freezes and the inability to provide step increases have put our teachers at a great disadvantage during their prime earning years,” said Garza. “Teacher turnover has risen 2 percentage points, from 5 to 7 percent, as we lose teachers to nearby districts that pay more throughout a teacher’s career.”

Other jurisdictions in the Segal Waters study: Alexandria, Arlington County, the District of Columbia, Loudoun County, Montgomery County (Md.), Prince George’s County (Md.), and Prince William County. The survey looked at base pay and promotional increases, pay supplements and stipends, health benefits, and retirement benefits.

The company will now continue the compensation study by completing a market study analysis; conducting employee surveys and focus groups; developing a new compensation philosophy; recommending compensation models and approaches to help the district recruit, retain, and reward high-quality employees, including a new salary scale approach; and estimate the costs of implementing the recommendations, FCPS said.

  • susie

    As a former FCPS teacher – this is a disgrace. LIving paycheck to paycheck with a Masters Degree and having to forego dental work because I couldn’t afford it. HOWEVER, the answer is not to raise taxes – it is to ENFORCE the immigration laws we have and stop raiding the teachers’ salaries to divert funds to the “undocumented migrants or refugees”. The funny thing is, the majority of teachers are liberals and are reaping what they sow. The elites know this – and gleefully stick it to them. So I really don’t feel all that bad for them anymore.

    • Sally Forth

      Yikes! I am so grateful that you are a “former’ FCPS teacher! With your rabid views on immigrants (such a poisonous un-American trend these days), students are better without you. Oddly, I must agree that the salary offerings in one of the wealthiest counties in the nation IS a disgrace.

    • Karen Goff

      Here is your first warning. This is not a story about illegal immigrants. It is a story about teacher pay. Next comment gets killed. The one after that gets you banned.

      • Ming the Merciless


        FCPS clearly states in this budget presentation that enrollment has greatly increased in the past 8 years, and that the proportion of students receiving ESOL, special services, and free meals has also increased. Needless to say, the parents of these students are not increasing the tax base in proportion to the expenses they are imposing. If costs increase much faster than revenues, then the cuts have to come from somewhere. Given that most of the FCPS expenditures are on salary and benefits, the increased costs necessarily come at the expense of teacher pay and benefits.

        In short, the issue of teacher pay is inextricably linked to immigration, and a story about teacher pay IS a story about immigration.

        Teachers need to wake up and realize that increased class sizes and flat salaries are inevitable if the immigrant population keeps increasing. If you don’t like it, start sending letters to the President and your representatives…

        • Karen Goff

          Immigration, yes. ESOL resources yes. It is the ILLEGAL part that readers are belaboring and can’t prove, therefore the warnings about hijacking the thread.

          • stoptreading

            Note to self: You’re not allowed to say anything negative about illegal immigrants on Reston Now.
            This is part of the problem. The Federal Govt doesn’t reimburse the school systems for costs associated with illegal immigrants.

            So it really is an issue that affects the issue being reported on yet we’re not allowed to talk about it?
            We can’t prove it? We, the readers & commentators don’t have to prove it…It’s already been proven via multiple studies. There is tons of empirical data that proves it.




            It just doesn’t fit in your narrative so you don’t want people to talk about it.
            Ignoring issues doesn’t make them go away…it makes them worse. Ignoring a $14 million per school year issue is certainly not going to fix it or make it go away.
            Banning people for speaking facts & truths because you don’t like to hear them is a disgusting form of censorship. No one is saying anything nasty about illegal immigrants…just that they cost the school systems a lot of money each year. How do you fix a $14M shortfall when you’re not allowed to discuss what is causing it?
            And…where is this site’s tolerance? Everyone should be given an opportunity to present facts & truths…not just the people who agree with your agenda/narrative.

          • stoptreading

            The rules for this site should state “No politically incorrect comments are allowed.” This is disgusting. Ignoring an issue that costs the county close to $14 million a year is not journalism…it is telling the story via a politically correct narrative. You won’t solve issues by ignoring them or censoring them.

  • Guest

    Well, FCPS got the results they paid Segal Waters Consulting to given them–with your taxes.

    The question is: What does salary have to do with student performance? Is Fairfax doing worse than those with higher salaries? And would raising salaries actually improve Fairfax student performance on tests, graduation rates, etc.?

    Until that can be demonstrated, why should Fairfax taxpayers pay more for teachers or all the other extraneous costs that go with public school education?

    • susie

      Teacher morale is horrible. Where I worked there was a severe bullying problem – by teachers! FCPS actually instituted professional development training for administrators on how to deal with bullying among teachers – one of my administrators went to it. Did absolutely nothing. When you import massive poverty into a school system, the costs have to come from somewhere. For years, FCPS has been taking it out the teachers salary budget – which is their largest expense with 10000+ teachers in the system. But they have exploited this to the breaking point – now they are coming for your tax dollars.

      • Guest

        So how will pay raises fix teacher bullying?

        • susie

          Didn’t say that it would. Just saying that FCPS is not attracting the best and brightest when you have low pay and poor working conditions.

    • Guest

      Yes, you’re absolutely right. Let’s short change the people who are directly responsible for your children for about 8 hours of the day. That’s a really wonderful idea.

  • meh

    I would support a 25% pay bump for all teachers if schools were in session all year. Getting 3 months off per year does factor into their salary…

  • South Reston Resident

    That is way too much money… We need to think about pay cuts.. Teachers earning up to 100k is ludicrous. (side note: this would solve our budget shortfalls)

    • susie

      It is not ridiculous when you have a Masters Degree and 25 or 30 years of successful experience in your field.

      • Ming the Merciless

        One could certainly question whether an MA was necessary for the job, or whether (like many other jobs in this area) the employer requires an MA simply because there are so many applicants and that’s one way to screen out a lot of them.

        • Mike M

          Absolutely. They set themselves up (and everyone else) with their own bogus standards. Standard bureaucratic process.

      • susie

        Ok – I agree. You don’t need a masters to teach. It’s just the way the pay scale has been set up.

        • South Reston Resident

          So, you should get paid more because you are over qualified. If you have a Doctorate and work at McDonald’s you don’t deserve more pay to do the same job as a uneducated

  • Ming the Merciless

    Garza complains about the pay gap over 10 and 15 year periods.

    Worth noting is that the FCPS salary and benefits per full-time equivalent position is now 17% higher than it was in 2001 after adjusting for inflation, and FCPS salary and benefits per full-time equivalent position is now 6% higher than it was in 2005 after adjusting for inflation. If you ask me, those teachers who got hired 10 and 15 years ago aren’t doing too bad at all.

    Meanwhile, median household income in the county, after adjusting for inflation, has FALLEN since 2001 and since 2005. As those income numbers INCLUDE teachers, if you took the teachers out of the county household income equation, you would see that teachers are doing much, much BETTER than the average household in the county since 2001 and 2005.

    Teachers in this county may or may not be doing better than teachers in other counties, as Garza claims. But the fact is that they are doing better than the taxpayers who pay their salaries. Moreover, as real estate prices over the long term generally do not increase faster than inflation, to expect the teacher salaries based on real estate taxes to rise faster than inflation — as they have since 2001 and 2005 — is unrealistic and untenable.

    • susie

      Actually, Ming , Federal workers are the ones who need a paycut. State employees are getting the shaft.

  • Haddock

    This not really useful data. Fairfax teachers do not want to go to PG or Montgomery, and there are no openings in Arlington. This data tells me we do not need to give more than a cost-of-living increase to FCPS teachers. If anyone of them can get more somewhere else, they should go for it. There are scads of teaching graduates from James Madison etc who are looking for jobs.

    • Ming the Merciless

      But they would love the wonderful diversity in PG or PW county! And they’d get paid more! And their houses would be cheaper! That’s so awesome, I can’t believe a mass exodus is not in progress.

      • susie

        A lot of teachers are married to Federal workers who on average pull in 100k (for letting contractors do their job for 150k) . That is how they afford to live in Fairfax

        • Ming the Merciless

          Nothing is stopping those teachers from being married to a Federal worker while working in PG or PW County schools.

  • Ming the Merciless

    Here is the FY15 human resources report from FCPS:


    Some quotes:
    99.4% of full time teaching positions were filled.
    99.2% of substitute positions were filled.
    97.9% of teachers “highly qualified” (whatever that means)
    62% 5-year retention rate for teachers (compared to 56% national average)

    This is not a portrait of a system that is so underpaid and horrible that nobody good wants to join it or stay in it.

    • susie

      Are you saying that Obama’s economy is thriving and there are more jobs than people to fill?

      • meh

        In the case of teaching there is such an influx of undocumented citizens that there is a need for teachers, doctors, nurses and legal aid

        • Karen Goff

          Here is a warning: We are not turning this into a discussion on illegal immigration.

      • Ming the Merciless

        Obama’s “economy” is defective and not working. It is destroying the private sector. That is precisely the reason why teaching jobs have been highly sought-after in the past six years. You would not have so many people trying to obtain teaching jobs if there were attractive private sector options available. As a teachers, you are undoubtedly aware that you enjoy excellent job security, salary, and benefits (certainly compared to the private sector) and you are part of a powerful political interest group that can induce the government to transfer tax dollars to you.

        • susie

          I left the teaching profession. And I agree with everything you say.

        • Rick L

          another ignorant response. you obviously have no idea about economics. try living on a teachers salary for a year

  • Karen Goff

    “Susie.” I most certainly can. This is a business and we can choose our rules. I very clearly went over them in this post last week https://www.restonnow.com/2015/12/02/a-few-comments-about-our-comments-section/

    Also, calling me me names will definitely get you banned. So I am blocking you for 24 hours. Thanks for playing. KG

    • RoadApples

      Is there a lesson somewhere in here to be learned?
      Reminds me of the time in the early ’80’s; when I was banned for 30 days from the Vienna Inn by the great old owner MikeA.
      My offense: allowing my Foreman to keep playing two songs on the jukebox back to back to back ‘ad nausea’; the Star Spangled Banner and the Redskin’s Fight Song.
      After serving my sentence: 31 days later; all was forgiven and back in action!

  • Kristen

    Yes the positions are filled, but with a constant stream of new teachers. Not to say new teachers are bad, but we are losing the tenured teachers to other counties. Experienced teachers who would otherwise train and mentor these new teachers. As a result, overall quality of education is suffering, and the pool of good candidates is shrinking every year since nobody wants to join a sinking ship. So although all appears rosy from that report, it is anything but.

  • east297

    How about those retirement perks? Pretty GOOD!

  • Mr. SMDH

    I must say, I am shocked and dismayed by some of the conclusions here about teacher pay and benefits, and people who seem to believe they are the big drain on our budget. While there certainly are some teachers who choose that career because of the summers off (whether for family flexibility or otherwise), but anyone
    who believes that teaching is a “cushy” job with fabulous pay and benefits, has their head fully in the sand, and I would invite you to try it out for a year or few. My wife is a teacher, and after 11 years of service here in Fairfax County, and 7 years before she raised her children in another State, her pension benefit will amount to barely enough to pay for groceries. Yes, if she had worked 30 years or more, she could get nearly 60% of her pay as a pension, but that still doesn’t buy you housing in this area. The idea that teachers should be willing to work for “peanuts” is simply missing the point of the importance of the teachers to our children, and grandchildren, and the future leaders (and the future laborers) of our society.

    In case you missed the memo, it is 10 months, not 9 (they only get off July and part of August, really), and teachers (at least in Fairfax County) do not even have the option to get paid in those summer months that they have “off”. Secondly, I think you would be surprised to realize that many of those lazy teachers who you think are lying around the pool all summer take on summer jobs of whatever they can find to make ends meet, since the teaching salary is hardly a “comfortable” wage in this area, especially for a single person, or a single mother/father, or (as is the case with my own daughter) where there are two married teachers in the household. To be sure, there are lower paying jobs, almost none of which require a college degree, much less a Master’s degree, and yes, there are other career paths that pay better than teaching without a college degree. But, do you want to entrust your child’s education to an underpaid, lowest cost alternative?

    The real tragedy in all of this is that there is so much handed down from the Federal Government and even from Richmond, that dictates a lot of busy work, standards-based testing that tries to make everyone learn and achieve the same way (a futile premise, to be sure) and focuses far too much on political correctness than the basic skills and subject matter. While all well-meaning, the teachers spend a lot more time outside of the teaching hours developing material, working with new technology every year that creates busy work and a huge pile of meta data on the students for someone in Administration to study, and answering parent emails, like the ones my wife received at the end of the Thanksgiving break, asking for something their kid should have already had, and which is also available on the Parent Portal if they (a) didn’t wait to the last minute, and (b) were inclined to look a few clicks deeper before asking the teacher to be their kid’s personal secretary. There are plenty of areas of waste in the FCPS administration, although the moment you suggest eliminating one of those jobs, or functions, the same outcry will come, and when there are reports and studies due back to Richmond or Washington, it is hard to eliminate them too … especially in a huge bureaucracy like this one where there are nearly 25,000 faculty and staff members. We need to get back to teaching flexibly, and without mandates. I believe I got a better education in the ‘70s and early ‘80s than my kids are actually getting
    today. Why is that?

    Money and pay is not the only answer, to be sure, but if you are trying to discourage qualified, caring women and men from becoming teachers, and taking an active and encouraging interest in your child’s or your grandchild’s knowledge and basic skills, you may get a lot more than a lower tax bill in return. I whole-heartedly recommend everyone watch the movie Idiocracy. While a mindless comedy, it tells a very prescient tale about the direction we are going today, and dumbing down the teaching corps by making it less and less attractive a career (or worse yet, what someone suggested, by cutting salaries?), or pricing the teachers out of the market so far that they move, commute an hour or more each way, or simply leave the trade, you will move us ever closer to that world. Merit-based pay, one of the subjects of the next part of the study, is important, and a far better model than simple step pay that rises with years of service, but that is complicated in a system so large as well.

    The obvious retort will be something related to how much taxes will have to go up, especially when the FCPS is facing a major shortfall, if teachers are given a healthy raise. Of course, they don’t have the ability to raise their own money (or raise prices, like private businesses do), they can only beg the County and State for more money and manage what they do better. One can quibble with other things the school system does, and I would encourage everyone to do so as part of solving the problem. These are hard problems that cannot be easily solved with a “sound bite”, but the Board of Supervisors should be allotting more money to the FCPS for teacher pay, as it goes to the value of education, which in turn is a big factor in the desirability of the area, and in turn real estate values (including YOUR home).

    • Ming the Merciless

      people who seem to believe they are the big drain on our budget.

      People “seem to believe” pay and benefits are the big drain on the budget because FCPS says it.


      Slide 8: 90 percent of the budget is spent on compensation, i.e., teacher pay and benefits.
      Slide 9: Cost drivers are salary increases, health care, and retirement system increases, i.e., teacher pay and benefits.

      anyone who believes that teaching is a “cushy” job with fabulous pay and benefits, has their head fully in the sand

      It is quite clearly superior to the private sector, as demonstrated by the number of applicants for every teaching job and by the high retention rate. If it wasn’t cushy… people wouldn’t want it, and wouldn’t stay in it.

      My wife is a teacher, and after 11 years of service here in Fairfax County, and 7 years before she raised her children in another State, her pension benefit will amount to barely enough to pay for groceries.

      Why would you expect her to be able to retire and live well after 11 years? That would be insane.

      Yes, if she had worked 30 years or more, she could get nearly 60% of her pay as a pension, but that still doesn’t buy you housing in this area.

      Anyone who buys a house AFTER they retire is doing it wrong. And she can always retire somewhere cheaper to live, as many people do.

      The idea that teachers should be willing to work for “peanuts” is simply missing the point of the importance of the teachers to our children, and grandchildren, and the future leaders (and the future laborers) of our society.

      Teachers are in plentiful supply. There are many more people who want to be teachers than there are slots to fill. The tax base can only sustain a certain number of government employees. These facts, not “the importance of teachers”, determine teacher pay.

      teaching salary is hardly a “comfortable” wage in this area

      Teachers are doing MUCH BETTER than private sector employees in this area.

      do you want to entrust your child’s education to an underpaid, lowest cost alternative?

      The parents who send their kids to pricey private schools – where teacher pay and benefits are inferior to FCPS – are fine with that.

      if you are trying to discourage qualified, caring women and men from becoming teachers

      If you are trying to do that, you need to try harder, because right now there are 8 applicants per teaching job and 99.4% of full time teaching positions are filled.

      Merit-based pay, one of the subjects of the next part of the study, is important, and a far better model than simple step pay

      That’s great but it still runs up against the wall of what the taxpayers can afford.


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