Lightman, a Prince George’s County teacher for 11 years, started working in Montgomery County last fall. He is one of many teachers reaping the benefits of living in a region where a dramatic boost in pay can be just a county away.
“The salary did play a role,” said Lightman, now a teacher at Greencastle Elementary School. “To get a substantial raise makes it easier for my wife and I to start the family that we just did.”
Discrepancies in teacher pay across the region are large, and the recession has sharpened the divide, sending some teachers looking for better deals. Beginning teachers in the Washington area make between $42,800 and $51,500 — a difference of 20 percent — and average salaries range from $58,500 to $77,500, a 32 percent difference. Parents and school officials worry that if such disparities in teacher pay deepen, districts that are already struggling to stay competitive will fall further behind as their best teaching talent moves elsewhere.
Montgomery, which area school officials say excels at luring and retaining teachers, approved two wage increases of up to about 7 percent for most employees in fiscal 2013. Another bump is planned for 2014. Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said that maintaining top salaries is critical not only for keeping talent, but also for keeping talented teachers motivated.
“You never want salary to be an issue,” Starr said. “When it drops below a certain level, people won’t go above and beyond, because they’re not getting fully compensated.”
Some school systems are seeing those teachers who believe they’re not fully compensated flee, with turnover rates that are two, three or even four times those in Montgomery.
Steven Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said he has seen Fairfax teachers leave for Montgomery, and he fears it will get worse if pay stays flat in Virginia’s largest jurisdiction.
“This year is much worse, as we have fallen way down,” Greenburg said, referring to pay in Fairfax in comparison with other districts. Early budget recommendations proposed a 2 percent increase in take-home pay for Fairfax teachers, similar to what neighboring Virginia school systems are planning. But the district now plans to cut those raises roughly in half after the Board of Supervisors recently limited tax increases, potentially creating a $30 million budget shortfall for the school system.
“Add in the teacher workload issues, and Fairfax is no longer the most attractive school system” to work for in the Northern Virginia area, Greenburg said.
The beginning and average teacher salary in Fairfax falls in the middle compared with others in the region, slightly ahead of Prince George’s. It has the second-lowest maximum teacher salary, behind only Prince George’s.