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 Fairfax County School Board action on new state legislation requiring public school employees who participate in the Virginia Retirement System to pay a 5 percent employee contribution, 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 was intended to give teachers more take home pay, 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.