The beginning of what could be a prolonged protest in Prince William County against teacher and staff pay freezes began on a frigid Monday morning outside Forest Park High School in Woodbridge.
About 30 teachers clutched coffee mugs and pinned on yellow “work to the rule” buttons on jackets as they prepared to walk in unison at exactly 7:15 a.m. The campaign is meant to highlight how much teachers do for students and the community outside of the contract hours of their day, 7:15 a.m to 2:15 p.m. As teachers plan to work solely during those hours during the protest, after-school activities and club meetings would be dramatically affected and will most likely have to be altered or canceled if the campaign becomes widespread.
Teachers have grown frustrated over next year’s proposed pay freeze and projected freezes years into the future.
“You think it’s going to get better, and then it doesn’t,” said Annie Malloy, an art teacher at Forest Park.
Teachers at other schools were also expected to hold their own “work to the rule” protests Monday.
Battlefield High School and Patriot High School also held “work to the rule” protests, said Philip Kavits, a county schools spokesman. “We trust in their professionalism to ensure this doesn’t take a toll on students,” Kavits said. “It’s very, very early in the process, and what the superintendent has done is to create a foundation that protects programs and protects jobs. That process needs to play out to see what more can be done to address the [teachers’] concerns.”
The “work to the rule” campaign has roots in previous protests, the most recent in Loudoun County.
Teachers at Forest Park said they had to take a stand on the prolonged pay freezes despite a potential negative reaction from parents and students.
Prince William teachers haven’t seen a “step” increase in pay for years — that’s the amount pay is supposed to go up on an annual scale depending on how long an employee has been with the county.
Malloy said she hopes parents get behind the effort to increase teacher salaries. “That’s who the county listens to and that’s who the board [of county supervisors] listens to.”
Shannon Geraghty, who works in Forest Park’s social studies department, said teachers would try to find ways to meet with students during lunch breaks instead of after school. She said after-school clubs she leads would have to be canceled.
“We all said we can’t go another year without a raise,” Geraghty said.
The Prince William Education Association, which advocates for teacher interests, is not yet behind the protests and its president says she isn’t sure whether the protests are warranted so early in the budget cycle. Not all teachers are members of the association, which is expected to meet on whether to endorse the protests tonight.