Fairfax schools chief renews call for higher teacher pay

Fairfax County schools chief Karen Garza said Monday that retaining quality teachers remains one of her top priorities as she plans a series of salary raises in upcoming years.

Garza was interviewed on “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” Monday afternoon on WAMU 88.5 FM, and discussed some of the challenges she faces in her first year as superintendent.

Among her goals, she said, is making Fairfax the top-paying school system in the region.

“I’m disappointed with where we are,” Garza said. “When I looked at how we compare to our other surrounding jurisdictions, we’ve lost ground.”

In recent years, teacher pay has lagged compared with neighboring jurisdictions. Teacher organizations have said that some teachers have received $10,000 bumps in salary after joining other school districts in the Washington area.

“We live in a very competitive marketplace, as it relates to classroom teachers,” Garza said. “So, that has to be a priority for us, and that is to make sure that we’re being very competitive with our surrounding jurisdictions, that we keep our best teachers in our classrooms.”

Garza said that this year the school board has requested a 5.7 percent increase in local funding from the board of supervisors. She also acknowledged that the two elected bodies have had a “bumpy relationship,” in recent years. But she wants to repair relations, she said.

“We’re committed to not continuing that relationship in the way in which it’s been, or to improve the relationship,” Garza said.

Last week, Garza told the supervisors that without the full funding request, the school system likely would have to cut an additional 200 staffers, on top of the 731 positions she called for eliminating in her original budget proposal.

Garza said that such cuts inevitably lead to larger class sizes across all grades and a greater work load on teachers who the superintendent said already aren’t paid a competitive salary.

“When we’re asking teachers to give students lots of one-to-one, you know, instructional time and certainly the opportunity to respond where students are not making appropriate progress,” Garza said. “It requires a lot of individual time on behalf of teachers. And so, that is a challenge.”

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.

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