Fighting back tears, South Lakes High School history teacher Lauren Ashley Villa described the impact relatively stagnant pay and increased workloads have had on county educators.
“Many [school system] employees must work an extra job or two simply to afford the high cost of living in Northern Virginia. Personally, I know I could not afford to live here if it were not for my husband and his two jobs,” she said. “I know of no other job that pays less for the amount of college and continuing education we teachers possess. … Please recognize the work that your employees do, the hours they put in while meeting all national, state and local mandates, and pay us what we deserve. Keep our retirement protected and give us our 4 percent.”
County educators flooded a public hearing on Tuesday before the School Board, calling for greater employee compensation and a shift from the superintendent’s retirement compensation plan.
State legislators made changes to the Virginia Retirement System this year, which will go into effect in fiscal 2013. Under the change, the state is requiring public school employees who participate in the retirement fund to pay a 5 percent employee contribution, which currently is paid by local school systems. The state also is requiring school systems offset the impact on employees by increasing salaries by 5 percent.
Several School Board members said the retirement system changes likely would be the biggest discussion on the budget moving forward.
Educator advocacy groups have been following the discussions closely.
“We understand the General Assembly handed you a mess in dealing with changes to the [Virginia Retirement System]. ... It does nothing to benefit VRS and hurts employees and localities,” said Fairfax Education Association President Michael Hairston. “The salary increase generated by the change in [retirement] contribution is less than 2 percent. We ask that you fund a real increase in salary for all employees. … Making that change will have a negative impact on employees long term.”
Educators are calling for a 4 percent cost-of-living increase for school employees.
Adding to the school system’s woes is a recent decision by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to not fully fund the school system’s advertised budget.
Although the School Board voted on an advertised $2.4 billion 2012-13 budget n February, which included an 8.9 percent increase in funding, the Board of Supervisors voted for a 4.5 percent increase. Within the county’s adopted $6.7 billion budget, Fairfax County Public Schools will receive $1.85 billion — or about 53 percent —of the county’s general fund. Other funding for schools comes from state and federal allocations.
To make up the difference in funding levels, School Board members are discussing possible cuts to the advertised budget.
Teachers said although the superintendent’s retirement compensation plan would add money to pay checks now, it would diminish retirement funds during the course of time. Additionally, teachers said the increase to paychecks would not be enough to offset increases in cost of living expenses.
“For years we’ve been willing to tighten our belts, take our challenges in stride and do our jobs well. No we are feeling the long term impact at a much greater level,” art resource teacher Precious Crabtree said. “Talented educators are leaving the system. … “I don’t want my retirement contribution reduced in order to give myself a raise. I want you to stand up for me and provide me a raise from your budget that I have earned and desperately need.”