Several local boards have opted this year for pay increases, in response to demands from teachers and other employees whose salaries had stagnated.
Resetting priorities after a fiscal downturn is challenging, administrators say.
“We know what the priority is when making cuts: You safeguard the classroom as the last resort,” said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. “But do you go back the same way? Not necessarily. You are going to put those dollars in the areas that are crying out for need.”
In Montgomery County, where pay was frozen for two years, the school board voted to spend nearly all its extra dollars on a salary increase. The $2.1 billion budget deal, a 2 percent increase over current spending, includes two raises in the coming year: a step increase July 1 and a retroactive step increase in May for those who went without one in fiscal 2011. The average increase by next summer will be about 5 percent, officials said.
The deal with the school system’s three employee unions prompted an outcry from some parents and the County Council, which approved smaller, one-time bonuses for other county employees.
Santiago Gasso, a Silver Spring father, said he’s concerned that services “are being degraded” while teachers get raises. His daughter is likely to have more than 25 students in her kindergarten class next year, he said, but his son had fewer than 20 in his kindergarten class a few years ago.
A letter from County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) questioned whether the more generous raises would take away from the district’s longer-term ability to lower class sizes or hire music teachers, media assistants and counselors.
In Prince William County, salary increases are coming with greater sacrifices.
The fast-growing district has lower tax rates and larger class sizes than many of its neighbors. The School Board decided this spring to increase class sizes in middle and high schools, pushing against state limits, so it could afford a step increase for employees.
“This year the priority was keeping pace” with salaries around the region, said Philip Kavits, a spokesman for Prince William schools. “We don’t want to lose people.”
The decision came after teachers packed School Board meetings and protested an original proposal to hold salaries flat. Employees have forgone step increases for three years, but teachers received a 1.75 percent raise and 0.6 percent bonus last year.
Other Virginia districts also are prioritizing pay raises this year, although increases are being offset by adjustments to employee contributions to state and local retirement plans. In Arlington County, for example, the school board approved a 7.2 percent pay increase, but employees will take home only about 2.2 percent. In Fairfax County, the net increase also is 2.2 percent.