OPINION: ‘Proposed Budget for Teacher Salaries Is Shameful’

| March 19, 2018 | 0 Comments | Education

Maggie Hansford talks with Bristow Beat at the March 7 School Board meeting.

Letter to the Editor by Maggie Hansford, a Prince William County Teacher

I thank our school board for beginning to address the lack of funding for social workers and school counselors. However, I continue to have concerns with our ability to hire additional staff positions. PWCS does not pay competitive salaries, compared to our surrounding districts. The proposed budget for teacher salaries is shameful.

Teacher wages are, on average, declining due to the loss of committed, experienced, excellent teachers. This year, our salaries are down nearly 9%!  Our average teacher salary is compared to our 2016 average salary, a loss of over $5,000. We are the only county nearby with a decline.  We, as a county, are unable to retain experienced teachers. They are leaving our schools for higher paid positions in surrounding school districts. Until our school board and supervisors make investing in our teachers a priority, we will continue to see a decline in our average teacher salary. This results in difficulty filling current positions with the best candidates, as well as additional budgeted positions such as school counselors and social workers.

Our current budget relegates teachers to the lowest salary increase within both our county employees, as well as teachers in surrounding school districts. Manassas City Public Schools have proposed 7.6% increase, Fairfax County Public Schools have proposed 6.23%, Loudoun County Public Schools have a proposed increase of 5.4%, but PWC drags behind with a mere 2.7% step increase. This is shameful.

Investing in our teachers means providing our teachers with a reliable step increase, earned with years of service as promised, and a 2% cost of living adjustment for teachers, which helps to ensure teachers remain in PWC schools and can afford to live within the communities where they work. Teachers will be unable to continue to live in our community if we are not investing in them adequately.

Our school board and supervisors must act.  By continuing to be the lowest per pupil funded school system in all of Northern Virginia (including Fauquier and Stafford), uncompetitive salaries and lack of reliable annual salary increases for teachers, highest classroom sizes and 200 trailers, we are telling businesses and future community members that we do not value our schools. To encourage new investment, we must do better for existing students and teachers.

I am very disappointed in my school board representative, Gil Trenum. He attended my school’s advisory council meeting and spoke to a large group of parents and teachers.  He said several times that he would vote in support for teachers receiving a step and cola. However, he broke his promise and did not. Many of the teachers that have advocated for step and cola are in the Brentsville district.  I do not believe the board heard and recognized teacher concerns regarding fair compensation.  It is hard for teachers to speak out in favor of a fair wage for themselves.  These teachers risk professional consequences by advocating for their salaries publicly. Unfortunately, teachers have asked for help, but were only offered lip service, while the board quietly voted against adequate compensation in a 6 to 1 vote.

If teachers are unable to rely on the school board prioritizing teachers, teachers lose the most powerful voice to the Board of County Supervisors. The current 5-year plan has pwcs teachers losing two step increases.  How are pwcs teachers to plan for their retirement with missed steps during a recession and now 2 more missed steps in a good economy?

PWC has inadequate revenue to support adequate funding for our public servants. Balancing the budget on the backs of teachers in a good economy, especially during a time when our state is experiencing a teacher shortage, will not provide our community with a world class education. There seems to be this idea that we must choose safety or teacher pay; that we must choose properly ratioed school social workers and school counselors or lowering classroom sized. This is a false choice, and I reject this idea. We cannot have a world class education with underfunded staff, under-resourced school, and overstressed staffs and buildings. Our community, as a whole, deserves better.

Lastly, I would like to thank Mr. Wilk (Just Wilk of the Potomac District) for his continued support of our teachers. He alone voted in support of providing our teachers a step and cost of living adjustment.  Thank you for listening, for reading emails, for responding to emails and for acting. Your courage to stand up for what is right is noticed and appreciated. Thank you, all members of the school board, for continuing to budget our earned step increase. I look forward in working with you all to help establish a better 5-year plan for our teacher compensation.

Response from Gil Trenum:

I seconded Mr. Wilk’s motion in order to have an opportunity to discuss the issue of staff compensation and raises. I did not support the motion because it was not a viable proposal in my opinion. His motion was for a 1% COLA for the entire staff, contingent upon the state including a 1% raise for teachers. However, the state funding would not necessarily cover the costs associated with the raises for the rest of the staff. We are already being aggressive in the budget by adding the additional social workers and school counselors; adding an additional $7 million-$8 million in ongoing funding requirements without a discussion as to where to come up with the revenue to fund it, or even a discussion as to the strategy to go about getting the funding, would just be irresponsible.

Unfortunately, when the majority of the board voted to cancel the last work session we lost an opportunity to have that discussion. I am certainly willing to have a discussion in the future regarding staff raises, and to consider alternative approaches to just straight across-the-board percentage increases, but we have to have the meetings in order to have the discussions.

I seconded the motion for discussion to provide an opportunity to do so, but honestly; the majority of the board was not willing to have those discussions last Wednesday. I’m glad we were able to get the security improvements and the social workers added. I would have liked to have done more with respect to staff raises and reducing class size, but with only two work sessions devoted to group discussion there simply isn’t the time needed to have those serious and hard discussions.

Bristow Beat is not taking a position on the issue and the opinion is solely that of the author. 

© 2018, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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Category: Education

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