Fairfax County teachers voice frustration over reduced pay raises in new budget

The Fairfax County School Board holds a public hearing on the Fiscal Year 2025 budget (via FCPS/Youtube)

With just days to go before Fairfax County Public Schools finalizes its fiscal year 2025 budget, teachers voiced frustration this week with the news that school employees will get lower-than-expected pay raises.

As it stands, the Fairfax County School Board is on track to adopt a revised budget that includes a 3% pay increase for all school employees, down from the initially proposed 6%, starting July 1.

However, school staff, parents and education advocates argue the increase isn’t enough to keep teachers — especially those in special education and Title I or understaffed schools — from leaving for other districts or quitting the profession altogether.

“The staffing shortages are going to be felt differently across different positions,” Emily VanDerhoff, a first grade teacher at Hunt Valley Elementary School, said during the school board’s public hearing on Tuesday (May 14). “I would like to suggest taking into consideration the conditions most hard hit by shortages for stronger increases to help with recruitment and retention.”

According to publicly available data, FCPS boasts approximately 25,000 full-time staff, including about 12,675 teachers. Currently, the division anticipates needing to fill nearly 600 vacancies, mostly for teaching positions, for the coming 2024-2025 school year.

Fairfax County isn’t alone, as school divisions across the D.C. area have grappled with a high number of staff vacancies for several years. The Washington Post previously reported that FCPS lost 726 teachers during the 2022-2023 school year and 896 in 2021-2022.

While pay raises have historically served as a tool for FCPS to enhance staff retention and recruitment, many school employees remain unimpressed by the division’s efforts.

At the public hearing, VanDerhoff noted that a 3% raise might “seem fair on the surface,” but she argued it actually benefits those with higher salaries, widening the income gap among teachers.

Instead, VanDerhoff said the school board should consider allocating more to the lowest paid employees to “provide a more equitable distribution” of the $165 million in additional funding from the county.

“The staffing shortages are going to be felt differently across different positions I would like to suggest taking into consideration the conditions most hard hit by shortages for stronger increases to help with recruitment and retention,” she said.

Local school and county officials have attributed underwhelming teacher salaries to the state, repeatedly referencing a recent study by the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission of Virginia (JLARC) that found that the state underfunds FCPS by about $568.6 million annually.

Earlier this week, the state approved a biennial budget that includes funding for 3% teacher pay raises. It remains unclear whether Fairfax County will receive enough money to increase its pay raises beyond 3%.

Although Superintendent Michelle Reid’s amended budget halves teacher pay raises, she indicated at a school board meeting last week that she would aim for as close to 6% as possible if the new state budget provides more funding than anticipated.

While teachers and parents at the public hearing acknowledged the state’s role in underfunding the school system, one teacher criticized the county for prioritizing higher wages for other county employees, such as police, because they were “first to the bargaining table.”

“If this is the mindset of those who hold the purse strings, then we FCPS employees, the school board and the community need to work together to move the minds of the Board of Supervisors and the state,” Woodley Hills Elementary School teacher Durann Thompson said. “Schools in Virginia had been underfunded for far too long, and the impact is teacher dissatisfaction, which has led to the teacher shortage we are currently experiencing.”

Unions representing employees in the county’s police and fire departments secured collective bargaining agreements in December that guaranteed pay raises and other benefits. FCPS workers won the right to bargain last year, but haven’t yet elected a representative for future contract negotiations.

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers and Fairfax Education Association, which banded together to form the Fairfax Education Unions, announced on May 8 that they have filed for union elections.

A second public hearing on the budget that would’ve been held last night (Wednesday), if needed, has been canceled. The school board plans to adopt its final budget on Thursday, May 23.

Read more on FFXnow…

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