PWCS Teachers Advocate for Cost of Living Increase

| March 13, 2018 | 0 Comments | Education

Prince William Teachers advocate for COLA increases at the March 7, 2018, meeting of the Prince William County School Board. (Photo Courtesy of Maggie Hansford.)

This year, a group of Prince William County School educators says it is time they receive both a step increase (2.8%) and Cost of Living, or “COLA”(2%) increase.

“We have a recession budget in a good economy. At what point are we going to invest in our teachers?” asked teacher Maggie Hansford of T. Clay Wood Elementary School in Nokesville.

Hansford is a leading voice in the advocacy movement that includes many teachers and educators.

She is asking the school board to find $15 million more in the budget to find the COLA increase for all salaried educators. This will be a reoccurring expense.

The superintendent’s budget already includes funds for the step increase. But Hansford believes a COLA increase is also necessary because PWCS is falling behind other districts.

When looking at the state average salary survey published by the Virginia Department of Education, Hansford noticed something odd. She realized that Prince William’s average salary was in decline. For 2018, average salaries had returned to 2016 levels.

The average teacher salary in Prince William County Schools was $65,902 in 2017. However, that average decreased to $60,227 in 2018. Meanwhile, other jurisdictions saw their average salaries growing.

School educators in districts to the north make more than Prince William County teachers; however, in 2018, even Stafford and Fauquier teachers had a higher average salary.

It is not that Prince William County does not pay as well as neighboring counties Stafford and Fauquier. Hansford believes it has more to do with staff turnover.

“We’re not retaining our teachers,” she said.

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

While multiple factors affect employee retention, Hansford and the Prince William Education Association are focused on COLA increases, recognizing that cost of living is a very real issue.

Before the 2008 recession, PWCS teachers routinely received steps and COLA increases. After the recession, there were years when educators did not receive any kind of salary increase.

Then in 2012, many PWCS educators demanded an increase by working to rule. Since then, budgets have included either COLA or a step.

Last year, budgets were tight, however, due to additional state funding, PWCS educators received their step, a higher raise than a COLA increase.

Now according to the FY19 County Executive’s proposed budget, non-PWCS county employees will receive their steps and COLA. One of the factors is that the county recognized they were losing police officers to other counties.

Hansford sees the same thing happening with PWCS educators, and people worry about the overall loss in wages over the years.

“It’s a shame that teachers have to advocate for their step increases – that’s their years of service,” she said.

Hansford does not believe PWCS will receive any of their steps back, but offering them step plus COLA realistic goal, or so she believes. She wants to keep teachers in the county.

“We want our teachers to live where they work,” said Hansford. “A lot of teachers are just struggling.”

She hopes parents who support their teachers will support this effort as she does.

“I want my kids to have those amazing teachers. They do have these amazing teachers and we should make sure they stay.”

She is not just looking at the 2019 budget, but the five-year plan as well in which there are no years when teachers receive both step and COLA.

Hansford was one of several speakers at the March 7 school board meeting. Many educators wore red and spoke at Citizens’ Time advocating for the increase.

Ann Collins-Walker in Dr. Seuss dress reads her advocacy speak in rhyme.

Teacher Ann Collins-Walker made an impression, dressed in a Dr. Seuss-style dress and reading her speech that was written in rhyming couplets.

Other supportive educators wore red shirts and shared their struggles and what they have heard from colleagues.

Hansford said she has been talking to the school board members as well as county supervisors who have the ability to set the property tax rate.

She is disappointed that she yet to get a commitment from school board member, Alyson Satterwhite of the Gainesville District after attending her town hall meeting.* Satterwhite said she is in discussions to find out if the state plans to provide districts with additional funding.

Some other school board members say they want to support the raise but tough choices may need to be made. COLA is competing with other desired services.

Additional safety measures, more counselors, improvements for older schools and more preschool programs, seem to be the hot issues this year. Hiring new counselor to meet levels recommended by the American School Counselor Association would also cost $15 million in reoccurring funds.

Money is an issue. The county is proposing a flat tax rate. In times of rising real estate values, and growing populations, that would mean higher taxes, even without any increase in the tax rate.

But it is most disheartening to Hansford and others that there is no year within the five-year plan where the school division has budgeted for both COLA and step increases. She wants to see the mindset changed about how educators ought to be compensated, and the budget to follow.

Rhyming Speech by Ann Collins-Walker below. 


*Correction: Maggie Hansford lives in the Brentsville District. 

© 2018, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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