Teachers: Don't Shortchange Entry-Level Hires

Because of school board action on VRS shift, new teachers will earn less than those hired in 2009; administrators say lower scale is necessary to prevent inequity across the system

Leaders of Fairfax County teachers unions say new teachers hired at the lowest pay step this school year will be earning $1,129 less than their counterparts in 2009 as part of pay scale adjustments expected to take effect next month.

The adjustments were a response to requiring public school employees who participate in the Virginia Retirement System , which school systems currently pay.

To offset the increased contribution, the legislation requires school systems to in turn pay a 5 percent salary increase to employees. School systems have the choice of implementing the change all at once or over the course of five years, but all new employees must pay in the 5 percent starting this month.

For returning employees, board members voted to implement only a 2 percent VRS shift this year. The change, along with a 1 percent reduction in employee contributions to the Educational Employees' Supplementary Retirement System of Fairfax County (ERFC) — a local retirement fund to which members currently pay 4 percent shift — a 1.25 percent market-scale adjustment, and a $0.5 million deposit into the VRS reserve, amounted to $47.1 million.

The decision and honor a request by the unions not to lower the salary scale by $400 as it did in both fiscal years 2010 and 2011.

But in what union leaders have classified as a miscommunication between the board and Superintendent Jack Dale, the new pay scale raises the base salary for entry-level teachers by only 1.625 percent, about $721, while still requiring them to pay $2,222 — the full 5 percent — into VRS. That means they will get $1,501 less in take home pay than those hired last year, Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Steve Greenburg said to the board at their meeting Thursday night.

In comparison, teachers returning to the system will receive a net 3.25 percent increase, which covers the entirety of their contributions as well as their market-rate adjustment, he said.

"That isn't progress; we are not going to be able to maintain the quality of our workforce if we do not compensate them appropriately," Greenburg wrote in a letter to the board with Fairfax Education Association President Michael Hairston. "Do you really think that is going to help you to attract and retain the best teachers?"

FCPS Spokesman John Torre said raising the lowest step by the same amount as other levels would give new entry-level teachers the same salary as teachers who already have one year in the system, creating inequity in the salary scale.

Even if the full 5 percent VRS change was implemented for returning teachers, the increase in the new step one would have been about 2.5 percent above the fiscal year 2012 beginning teacher salary and 2.5 percent below the next step, Torre said — still short of a 3.25 percent increase.

Though thousands of teachers are hired each year, they fall in a variety of places across the salary scale — not just at the bottom, the system said. As of Oct. 31, the system had 877 teachers on step one, Torre said.

But lowering the salary scale could put this year's entry-level hires perpetually behind all others in the system, Greenburg said in a plea to school board members Thursday night, as the board began to discuss budget adjustments for this and the last fiscal year.

"Several of us misunderstood maybe during the budget process that some of the new hires were held behind," school board member Paty Reed (Providence) said Thursday. "[We have to make sure] with the changes in VRS they aren't always behind."

The discussion comes as the school board prepares to vote on its final fiscal year 2012 budget review later this month, which shows the system coming in  $44.4 million under what it expected to spend that year, according to school board documents.

Greenburg asked the board Thursday to use some of the extra funding to remedy the salary disparity.

But Dale told board members the system will also face a $64 million funding gap in fiscal year 2014 after it completes the remaining 3 percent VRS shift required by state law, among other requirements and federal funding loses.

"We're in dire straits here," Reed said. "... We are going to have a lot of work ahead of us and think creatively about what to do."

"You want advice? Stop spending," Dale said.

The school board will discuss the budget review further at a 3:30 p.m. work session Monday.

David Salzberg July 18, 2012 at 01:08 AM
Some of us like these extra programs, and are willing to pay for the services. Of course, I choose to live in the Town of Vienna, where I spend extra $$$ for better services.
BurkePatriot July 18, 2012 at 01:11 AM
The greatest growth of this nation came when the federal government spending was only 3% to GDP. The private sector was free from restraint. Millions of legal immigrants flocked to this nation to be part of freedom that the world hadn't experienced. Many new inventions and medicines came from this era of freedom from government that made our way of life second to no nation in the world. Private sector creates. The government consumes. Government has a roll to protect our rights of life, liberty and property. That is why and proven why it must be limited. We need more money in the schools.
Amelie Krikorian July 18, 2012 at 01:12 AM
If only people who actually do the jobs were included in the discussions about where the money goes, the money would be better spent and the laws would be a lot more sensible. The No Child Left Behind act has no teacher input. The discussions on where the money goes for welfare, local services, and social services includes bureaucrats but not policemen, social workers, and firemen. Even if you show up at a town meeting and try to give your input, you are so limited by the amount of time you get to say your piece you really can't argue your case. There needs to be a major change -- the people we elect get into office and then only care what we have to say when it's time to vote again. Why is the school board an elected body instead of representation by the principals of each school as a governing body? I have never seen a school board member come into my school and actually spend time in the classrooms, or talk to the teachers or parents or students -- except at the one PTA meeting right before the elections. This needs to change if the money is to be allocated fairly and peoples' needs are to be heard.
BurkePatriot July 18, 2012 at 01:22 AM
David, I agree. People should be able to vote there programs in or out within states. People can live in the town or move to an other if they don't like what they are doing. But if the federal government is unrestrained there is nowhere to escape. Thank you for the conversation. :-D
science teacher July 24, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Olderbutwiser, I REALLY hope that you are just trying to "stir the pot a bit" because if you truly believe what you wrote then you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. I welcome you to spend a day in my 7th grade classroom and then tell me if you think my job is "cake." And to assume that a physics teacher is more highly skilled than a phys ed teacher, even further demonstrates a lack of knowledge. Again, I invite you to spend a day with a phys ed teacher and tell me how "unskilled" they are. And did you know that teachers only get paid for 10.5 months out of the year, so having "off" in the summer means not getting paid. Many of us use this time for professional development (which is required), attend conferences, work on curriculum, and spend time with our children. By the way did you know that most teachers work an average of 3.5 hours after contract hours per day? That's 17.5 extra hours that were unpaid. Some of these extra hours include mandatory after school meetings and academic help for students (oh yeah, did I mention we are REQUIRED to do these, without pay). In my 10 years in the county, I have seen at least 5 teachers not have their contract renewed (referred to as "fired" in business world), so your comments about tenure is absolutely erroneous. Please get your facts straight before you go on lambasting teachers.


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